Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Crimes Committed by MLB in Biogenesis Investigation?

Notwithstanding commissioner Bud Selig’s protestations, Major League Baseball was infamously culpable in the proliferation of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs during the 1990s. Much in the way that the NBA handled Donald Sterling for so many years, Baseball simply looked the other way. Then, just like the NBA, MLB sprung into action after bad publicity gave it no other choice.

But while the NBA seems to have stretched its authority with its attempted punishment of Sterling, MLB may have actually broken the law in its quest for some notion of justice. 

Victory Lap

MLB handed down several suspensions last year after acquiring information that certain players had scored performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) from a Florida health clinic called Biogenesis of America.

MLB was quite proud of itself, particularly for the fact that it had nabbed the notorious Alex Rodriguez. So proud, in fact, that it took a victory lap on 60 Minutes. It also used the primetime show for a little damage control, as some had questioned the ethics of the investigation. But thanks in part to a Boca Raton police report obtained by Newsday this week, many are now questioning more than ethics—they’re wondering whether MLB personnel committed criminal offenses in the pursuit of its cheaters.

Stolen Goods

The story of what MLB did to gather evidence incriminating its players is both long and sordid, but one of the more noteworthy methods was offering witnesses “six-figure sums for information or documents.” (Steven Fishman, “Chasing A-Rod.”) 

According to Newsday’s coverage of the recently unearthed police report, “Major League Baseball ignored repeated warnings that records they sought in the Alex Rodriguez Biogenesis scandal had been stolen and that they were not to purchase them.” Boca Raton police reportedly wrote that MLB investigators—despite the warnings—bought records that were the product of a car burglary, and may have even been involved in the theft from its inception.

Proof Problems

Criminal charges could have fit anyone at MLB who participated in the acquisition of the stolen records. Higher-ups who sanctioned an illegal plot could have been criminally liable on conspiracy grounds. Interestingly enough, however, it’s unlikely that anyone at MLB committed the Florida crime of dealing in stolen property, as that offense requires proof that the purchaser intended to or did resell the property. (Canady v. State, 73 So. 3d 785 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2011).)

But speculating about charges that would hold Major League Baseball accountable for its unsettling behavior amounts to nothing more than a critic’s pipe dream. The detective who authored the police report apparently ran up against chain-of-custody issues and challenges parsing out who did what. MLB is undoubtedly grateful of that, as it can continue to deny that it had any idea that it purchased stolen documents. Indeed, its senior vice president of public relations just declared, “We have stated repeatedly that we had no knowledge that the documents we purchased were stolen.”