Bush case break?

Bush case break?
By Charles Robinson and Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports
October 9, 2007

The NCAA appears to be on the verge of a major breakthrough in its investigation of Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush.

Two sources have told Yahoo! Sports that Lloyd Lake, one of the financiers of failed marketing company New Era Sports & Entertainment, has agreed to meet with NCAA investigators and turn over financial records and other evidence that would tie Bush and his family to nearly $280,000 in extra benefits allegedly taken during Bush's days at USC. Lake – one of two New Era financiers who allegedly delivered cash payments and other benefits to Bush and his family – is preparing to file suit against Bush and his family later this month.

Sources said that Lake's meeting with the NCAA could include discussion of Bush's relationship with New Era Sports – from financial records and receipts to how and when payments were made – and information about other parties who might have had financial involvement with the running back and his family. Such revelations would likely allow the NCAA's slowed investigation to move forward.

Yahoo! Sports has acquired confidential emails from officers of New Era Sports & Entertainment, soliciting marketing and memorabilia deals on the running back's behalf. The emails and other internal memorandums purport ties between Bush, his family and New Era officers Lake and Michael Michaels. Bush settled out of court with Michaels in April for a sum that sources placed between $200,000 and $300,000. The settlement included a confidentiality agreement that barred Michaels from speaking to the NCAA, sources said.

Lake and Bush sat before a mediator in June and attempted to hammer out a settlement, sources said, but that effort apparently was unsuccessful. Lake's legal representation declined to confirm that meeting and also refused to discuss the potential for their client to appear before the NCAA.

"We do not want to discuss the matter," Lake's attorney, Brian Watkins, said.

Calls to Bush's attorney, David Cornwell, were not immediately returned.

Cornwell said in January that he and his clients no longer would be taking part in the "media frenzy" surrounding the running back.

NCAA officials declined to comment on the matter but encouraged anyone with knowledge of the situation to come forward.

Taped conversations between Lake, Bush, Bush's stepfather LaMar Griffin and others starting in December 2005 now could be examined as evidence by the NCAA. Sources have told Yahoo! Sports that those tapes provide proof of a financial relationship between the New Era financiers and Bush's family during his days at USC. The tapes could pave the way for significant penalties for USC and ultimately could lead to Bush losing the Heisman Trophy he won in 2005 when he led USC to the national championship game against Texas.

The conversations also could prove Bush's family started taking money from Michaels and Lake during the 2004 season, when USC went undefeated and won the national championship in a rout of Oklahoma.

Pressure has been growing on the NCAA for months and came to a head recently when the organization struck Oklahoma with multiple penalties stemming from a scandal uncovered before the 2006 season. Oklahoma President David Boren recently praised his school's efforts to clean up its issues and compared it favorably with the lack of fact-finding in the USC case.

Two sources told Yahoo! Sports that attorneys for Lake and Bush have not spoken since the failed settlement attempt in June. However, according to four sources, Bush angered both Lake and Michaels by accusing them of extortion in a recent interview aired Sept. 13 on ESPN's "Outside The Lines."

In that interview, Bush said of the NCAA investigation and his family's alleged impropriety: "For me, I look at it as – and my family looks at it as – extortion. Because these were guys we'd known our whole lives … when I was a freshman in high school, they weren't asking for money. When I was getting older, and then all of the sudden my year with the possibility of me coming out, all this stuff comes out."

According to a source at ESPN, that segment aired despite a threat from Bush's camp that the running back would halt future cooperation with the network if the interview was not pulled.

Sources told Yahoo! Sports following the segment that Bush might have violated his confidentiality clause with Michaels by directing claims of extortion at the New Era financiers. The FBI briefly investigated claims of extortion from Bush's attorney, including interviewing several of Lake's family members and acquaintances before a federal grand jury. After the depositions, a federal source told Yahoo! Sports that the FBI would not be pursuing the extortion claims.

Bush's family allegedly received rent-free living for a year in a home in Spring Valley, Calif. Both Michaels and Lake have claimed the family owes approximately $50,000 in rent on the $757,000 home. Sources also detailed for Yahoo! Sports a litany of cash payments and other benefits allegedly given to the family. Such payments eventually are expected to be revealed during the course of Lake's lawsuit.

Bush, whose family had lived in an apartment before moving into the Spring Valley home, claimed his parents simply "got behind" on rent during his interview with "Outside The Lines."

"It was basically, you know, just my parents, you know, renting a house from a friend of ours, and they got behind on some rent, you know, a couple of months on some rent," Bush said on the segment. "And all of the sudden it's like the media blew up this whole thing – 'Oh, they were living in this house rent free' – which wasn't the case. We rented a house and just like any other family, you know, you get behind on bills. You don't have money; my family isn't rich. We didn't have a lot of money.

"So my parents struggled to pay bills here and there, one of those being rent. I think just like any normal average family, you struggle to pay bills sometimes, and that's all it was. And the media kind of blew it out to kind of make it seem like we were living in this nice gorgeous house – which I never lived there – living in this nice gorgeous house rent free, and it wasn't anything like that."

Watkins and Michaels' attorney, Jordan Cohen, told Yahoo! Sports the family never paid any rent and subsequently was evicted from the home in April 2006.

Jason Cole and Charles Robinson are national NFL writers for Yahoo! Sports.

Send Jason a question or comment or send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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Updated on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2007 10:47 pm, EDT

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