SPRING VALLEY, Calif. – The proof that Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush’s family resided at a Spring Valley home during Bush’s junior season is etched in concrete.
Scrawled in all-capital letters on the driveway of the home in this suburban community just southeast of San Diego is the “THE GRIFFIN’S “05.” That refers to Bush’s mother, Denise Griffin, stepfather LaMar Griffin and younger half-brother.
The family lived there until Thursday, when a reporter from The Miami Herald came to ask about the ownership of the home. On Friday, moving trucks showed up to take the family’s belongings.
As the former University of Southern California running back prepares to become the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft on Saturday, questions persist about whether NCAA rules were violated because of ties between his relatives and the owner.
Documents reviewed by The Miami Herald show that the $757,000 house at the corner of Apple and Luther streets was purchased by Michael Michaels, a member and employee of a prominent Indian tribe in the San Diego area. Two sources said Michaels was planning to form a marketing and contract agency that would feature Bush as a client. Michaels has not returned numerous calls from The Miami Herald.
The connection between Michaels and the Griffins and how they came to live in the home could constitute a violation of NCAA eligibility rules for Bush and Southern California, which came within 19 seconds of winning a third consecutive national championship in January.
After being contacted by The Miami Herald, Southern California said the school was forwarding the matter to the Pacific-10 Conference for investigation.
Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon told The Associated Press on Sunday that an investigation will be held. A source within the NCAA said it is likely the organization also will conduct an investigation.
“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 Friday. “We have asked the Pac-10 to look into this.”
On Thursday, Denise Griffin, Bush’s mother, declined to comment when asked about the matter by a Miami Herald reporter. The next day, moving trucks were at the home where Bush’s relatives resided during much of the 2005 football season, when Bush was playing for Southern California.
“I don’t want to talk,” Griffin said. When asked who owns the home, she closed her eyes, sighed and again declined to discuss the matter.
“I’m tired, and I want to get something to eat. I just got back from work,” she said.
In late 2005, Michaels and an associate talked to a San Diego sports agent about forming the agency, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation. The agency, New Era Sports & Entertainment, was incorporated in November, according to California public records. The agent, David Caravantes, had some of his other clients listed as being represented by the fledgling firm.
Attorney David Cornwell, who represents Bush, declined to comment despite numerous calls from The Miami Herald. Cornwell agreed Wednesday to talk with The Herald on three occasions but deferred the conversation each time and has not returned calls since.
According to NCAA guidelines, the relationship between the family and Michaels could constitute a violation, even if Bush had no knowledge of the relationship.
An NCAA rules guide designed for student-athletes states: “Nor may your relatives or friends accept benefits from an agent, financial advisor, runner or any other person associated with an agency business. (Benefits include but are not limited to transportation, money and gifts, regardless of the value of the benefit or if it is used.)”
That refers to NCAA bylaw 12.3.1, which further state that “an individual shall be ineligible if he or she (or his or her relatives or friends) accepts such benefits.” Thus, Bush might have been ineligible for the entire season.
The question of whether the family paid a fair-market rent for the 3,002-square foot home with a panoramic view of Sweetwater Lake has not been answered. But that might not matter: The NCAA frowns on any relationships that exist between sports marketing representatives and family members of colleges athletes.
Commensurate rent in that subdivision is at least $2,500 a month, although the mortgage payment on the home Michaels purchased could be significantly higher. LaMar Griffin works in security at a public high school in San Diego. Denise Griffin has worked as a corrections officer and deputy sheriff. The Griffins previously lived in an apartment in Spring Valley before moving into the home, according to public records.
Michaels is a member of the Sycuan tribe of El Cajon and works for the Sycuan Tribal Development Corporation. Michaels took out a first mortgage of $600,000 on the home and subsequent loans of $150,000 and $60,000, property records show.
He did not return messages left for him on his work phone and with Sycuan spokesman Adam Day. Michaels also was not at his El Cajon home Thursday night.
On Thursday, Day said: “There are many tribe members with businesses outside the tribe. We are completely unaware of whatever Michael has done in this situation.”
As far back as November, Michaels and associate Lloyd “Tata” Lake had told a source that Bush was expected to be New Era’s lead client. A different source said Michaels and Lake had talked to Caravantes.
New Era Sports & Entertainment was incorporated on Nov. 23, 2005 by Los Angeles attorney Phillip M. Smith. When contacted Tuesday, Smith declined to discuss the matter. When asked specifically about Michaels, Smith said: “I’m not going to go there. I have nothing to say about it.”
After Bush chose to have veteran marketing agent Mike Ornstein handle that part of his business and then chose agent Joel Segal to handle his contract, Michaels was left out.
Attorney Brian Watkins, who said he has represented Michaels for eight years, did not respond to questions about whether he had been in talks with Cornwell over the occupancy of the home.
NCAA spokesman Kent Barrett declined to say whether the matter would be subject of an investigation, but said a probe can be triggered in a number of ways, including media reports.
Neighbors of Bush’s family members said the family had been living at the home since last year. Michaels purchased the home in April 2005, shortly after it was built.
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