Sunday, August 19, 2012

How Melky Cabrera tried to use a fake website to avoid his drug suspension

It's easy to create or acquire your own website. It's not as easy, though, to fool criminal investigators into thinking that the site truly existed and lured you into violating baseball's drug policy. Melky Cabrera tried, and failed.

San Francisco Giant outfielder Melky Cabrera and a cohort attempted to fool investigators into thinking that he had ordered a supplement from a website, one that caused the elevated levels of testosterone that major league baseball detected in a random drug test. The hope was that, if so convinced, they would let him off the hook and he would avoid the 50-game suspension he is currently serving.

At the very least, it was hoped the website could be used cast doubt on the issue, such that Cabrera could leverage a clause in baseball's collective bargaining agreement that permits a player who has tested positive for a banned substance to try to prove his innocence on the grounds that he ingested the material accidentally.

It didn't work. The 2012 All-Star Game MVP's ruse was easily uncovered, as the New York Daily News reported on Sunday.

Although the Cabrera suspension was only announced a few days ago, the scam was developed in July, as Cabrera and others worked to explain the elevated testosterone levels in his failed test. Juan Nunez, who is described by Cabrera's agents, Seth and Sam Levinson of ACES sports management, as a “paid consultant” of their firm, but not an “employee,” allegedly paid $10,000 to acquire the website.

Nunez then attempted to alter the website to make it look as though it was a valid business, one selling a product that Cabrera could claim caused the positive result. It seems Nunez had a degree of smarts; he chose an existing site with an existing domain name, as a site created after the positive test was known to Cabrera would be too obvious.

A baseball official who spoke on condition of anonymity said, "If you create a new website, you would know when the website was created. At least they were smart enough to buy an existing website." To a computer forensic expert, though, this was still too obvious. The official said investigators were able to trace the website back to Nunez.

It's simple enough to see who owns a website.   It becomes more complex if the domain name is held in your stead by a different agency.  In this case, it's unclear, but doubtful that Nunez would have taken that step, making it far to easy to uncover the plot.

Seth Levinson told The Associated Press that "The MLBPA has clearly stated that ACES has no connection to the website or this matter and, as reported, Juan Nunez has taken full responsibility for his acts. There is nothing more we can add and we will allow our reputation in the industry for 27 years to speak for itself."

In an email to the New York Daily News, Seth Levinson added, “Sam and I absolutely had no knowledge or dealings with anyone at anytime associated with the website. I will state unequivocally and irrefutably that any payment made to the website does not come from ACES.”

Cabrera had been enjoying the best season of his major league career, in a season that he obviously hoped would end in a big payoff and a big contract. He had been hitting .346 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs prior to the suspension, but he will miss the rest of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, if the Giants get that far.

Cabrera is eligible for free agency after the season, and most fans and talk show hosts around the Bay Area had wanted him re-signed by the Giants. Now, it's unclear what will happen.

The fact that he and Nunez participated in such an elaborate cover-up makes the whole thing look worse than it originally did. It was bad enough that his suspension may have ended the Giants' chance for a postseason berth, but this scheme may bring the wrath of the Bay Area down upon him. Sports radio talk show hosts around the Bay - and probably nationally syndicated ones as well - will probably vilify his actions, starting on Monday.

Major league baseball has apparently had referred the case to federal investigators. However, the baseball source mentioned above said additional discipline - from baseball, at last - against Cabrera was unlikely.

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