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More Robinson: The ultimate cost of Bush family home inquiry
SPRING VALLEY, Calif. – In this sprawling hilltop community with a breathtaking view of Sweetwater Lake, it was no secret who lived in the 3,000-square-foot house at the corner of Apple Street and Luther Avenue.
That home, residents would tell you, was where Reggie Bush's family lived.
That is, until this weekend, when the family abruptly packed up and vacated the residence – less than 24 hours after Yahoo! Sports approached Bush's mother about information linking the property to Michael Michaels, a man who is alleged to have tried to play a role in steering Bush toward an agent and who also has ties to a sports marketing company.
Days before Bush is expected to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, unanswered questions about the residence and how his mother, stepfather and brother came to live in it within the last year have prompted the University of Southern California to refer the matter to the Pacific-10 Conference for an investigation.
NCAA statutes prohibit student-athletes or their families from receiving extra benefits from professional sports agents, marketing companies or their representatives. A breach of these statutes could result in an athlete being ruled ineligible, and games in which they played could be forfeited.
USC finished 12-1 last season, its 35-game winning streak and national championship bid both ending with a loss in the Rose Bowl to Texas. Bush, a junior running back, won the Heisman Trophy and elected to skip his senior season and turn pro in January.
In response to reporters' questions about the matter late last week, USC athletic department officials said they would look into it.
"Rather than jumping to conclusions, we need to determine the facts before commenting on this report," Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett said in a statement released by the school on Friday. "We have asked the Pac-10 to look into this."
State records show the Apple Street home was built in late 2004 and early 2005, then purchased by Michaels on March 29, 2005 for $757,500. Around that time, neighbors say Bush's family moved in. Whether they had visited the house while it was being built is unknown, but there is an inscription in one of the cement slabs in the driveway reading "The Griffins '05."
Michaels is the only person who has been listed on the deed to the home.
Bush's mother, Denise Griffin, was approached in the driveway of the house on Thursday, but declined to comment.
"I have absolutely nothing to say," Griffin said when asked about ownership of the property, which is where Bush's mother, stepfather LaMar and brother Jovan lived during USC's 2005 season.
Before moving to the house on Apple Lane, Bush's family was listed as living in an apartment elsewhere in Spring Valley, a community located about 13 miles east of San Diego.
At some point after Bush's family moved into the residence, Michaels and an associate named Lloyd Lake are said to have contacted San Diego-based sports agent David Caravantes and offered to facilitate Bush's recruitment. A source with intimate knowledge of the meeting said it took place during the 2005 college football season and that Michaels was looking for a local agent to handle the contract negotiations for players he intended to sign to his marketing firm.
Michaels and Lake told Caravantes they were planning to start a sports marketing agency with Bush as their anchor client. It was also during this meeting that Michaels and Lake mentioned the potential name of the agency: New Era Sports & Entertainment.
The pitch to Caravantes was said to have been simple: He would be Bush's agent and Michaels' marketing creation would handle the promotion of the USC star. At some point after pitching this idea, Michaels informed Caravantes that Bush's family was living in a home Michaels owned. Caravantes isn't believed to have met with Bush and was never considered to be in the mix before the USC star hired Reebok adviser Mike Ornstein and agent Joel Segal of Worldwide Football Inc. as his representatives.
Repeated attempts to reach Segal and Bush were unsuccessful.
While it's unclear what official role Michaels played in New Era Sports, indications are that the company barely got off the ground – if at all. According to corporation filings in California, paperwork for New Era Sports & Entertainment was drawn up on Nov. 23, 2005, and records list the business address in Los Angeles under an attorney named Phillip M. Smith Jr.
Contacted late last week, Smith Jr. refused to talk about New Era Sports – even declining to give public details such as a phone number for the company, where the New Era offices were located or who was serving as the company's current president or manager.
Asked why he wouldn't provide such information, Smith ended the brief telephone conversation, saying, "That's really not an issue that I want to deal with." He has failed to return multiple follow-up messages left at his office.
Further attempts to identify New Era produced a single web page with a company logo (http://newerasports.tv/) that contains no active links to indicate where New Era is located, what services are provided or how the company could be contacted. Searches also produced the internet blogs of three self-proclaimed employees of New Era Sports. One such blog included the company logo of New Era and pictures of several NFL players. That blog was taken down shortly after Yahoo! Sports obtained a hard-copy of the page.
Contacted about his alleged meeting with Michaels, Caravantes declined to comment.
Michaels – who is a member of the Sycuan Indian Tribe and works as a business development officer for the tribe's development corporation – failed to return multiple phone calls and was unavailable when Yahoo! Sports visited his home on three occasions this weekend.
The Sycuan tribe, which owns a casino and resort and is engaged in a number of business enterprises in the San Diego area, denied any knowledge of Michaels' relationship with the Bush family.
"The tribe is not aware of his involvement," said spokesman Adam Day, who had been approved to speak for the Sycuan's tribal government. "Any involvement that he has in this situation is his personal involvement. It has no connection or correlation to the tribe, its businesses or Mike's employment by the tribal development corporation.
"What tribal members do on their own time is their own business. It's not the business of the tribe."
Back at the house on Apple Street on Saturday afternoon, the moving trucks had come and gone. A flier offering cleaning services for movers was hung on the front door, and all the shades had been drawn shut. Through a garage window, only a few empty cardboard boxes and straggling trinkets were visible.
Across the street, neighbor Grant Sitton could only shrug.
"I don't know, I guess it didn't work out," Sitton said. "Oh well. They have a big payday coming next week anyway."