Sunday, April 23, 2006

USC is in Some Potential Hot Water

If the NCAA has any stones what so ever, the USC football program could be in some serious hot water:
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 sport marketing company.

If you think that bad, don't worry it gets worse later in the story:

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.

So here's the recap. You have a guy looking to start a sport marketing agency with Reggie Bush as his centerpiece client. So he buys an $800,000 house and lets the Bush family live in it. Then when people start asking questions about it, the Bush family moves out within 24 hours and anyone who had anything to do with buying or living in the house all of sudden get very tight-lipped. Doesn't exactly give off the best impression. And if it turns out that this house deal stinks as bad as it appears it does right now, I hope Pete Carroll doesn't mind having a few less scholarships over the next few years.