Investigators from Major League Baseball, hot on the trail for a product Melky Cabrera led them to believe caused him to inadvertently fail a drug test, traveled to the Dominican Republic, acquired a jar of it and sent the substance to the World Anti-Doping Agency's testing labs in Utah before discovering weeks later it was only part of an elaborate cover-up, the New York Daily News has reported.
In preparation for an arbitration hearing the players' association had sought on behalf of Cabrera, MLB officials told the union it wanted to test the substance, which Cabrera claimed was featured in a website advertisement he had come across, the Daily News reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the case.
"The union said you can go to this website and buy it. There's a phone number on the site," the source said, according to a story posted online Monday night. "They called the phone number and they went to a town in the Dominican Republic and bought it from a guy."
An associate of the San Francisco Giants All-Star outfielder's had purchased a website and attempted to create evidence to support Cabrera's story.
Baseball officials uncovered the scheme as Cabrera prepared his case to challenge the test. Cabrera's grievance then was dropped, and MLB announced a 50-game suspension Wednesday.
A team of six to seven investigators from MLB spent several weeks working to uncover the plan, a baseball official familiar with the probe told The Associated Press. A second baseball official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said additional discipline against Cabrera was unlikely.
It's the first such case MLB has had, and officials hope that uncovering the scheme will discourage similar attempts.
"This is not a simple scheme," a source familiar with the investigation told the Daily News. "There was a lot to it."
Juan Nunez, who works with Cabrera's agents, purchased an existing website and attempted to alter it in a manner that would allow Cabrera to claim the positive test was caused by a substance obtained through the website, a baseball source confirmed to The Associated Press. The News reported Nunez paid $10,000 for the website.
"If you create a new website, you would know when the website was created," the baseball official said. "At least they were smart enough to buy an existing website."
The baseball official said MLB investigators were able to use their forensic resources to trace the website back to Nunez.
"What they did was they bought an existing Spanish-language website that sold health products -- actually, they bought three websites," a source familiar with the case told the Daily News, also quoted in Monday night's online story. "They just stuck a banner up on it. It had a product ad and a picture of the jar. It was all in Spanish."
All three websites have been taken offline, according to the report.
Once the World Anti-Doping Agency authenticated the product as containing synthetic testosterone after tests in its accredited labs in Salt Lake City, questions of the substance's legitimacy began to circulate among MLB officials, the report said. The website advertisement was then given a closer examination and discovered for what it was -- a fraud.
"They acquired more than one website to advertise a product they created," the Daily News source familiar with the case said. "It was outlandish enough that Major League Baseball could go to the Dominican Republic and buy it from some guy."
Cabrera is represented by brothers Sam and Seth Levinson of ACES, a sports management company based in Brooklyn. The Levinsons told the Daily News that Nunez was a "paid consultant" of their agency.
"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," Seth Levinson told The Associated Press. "There is nothing more we can add, and we will allow our reputation in the industry for 27 years to speak for itself."
The second baseball official said MLB intends to ask the Major League Baseball Players Association, which regulates agents, to follow up on the situation at ACES.
Cabrera was enjoying the best season of his big league career, helping the Giants contend for a postseason berth. He was hitting .346 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs but will miss the rest of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, if the Giants advance that far.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.