MLB Investigations Unit Brings More Questions Than Answers In Integrity Fee Debate

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MLB integrity fees

This is the second in a two-part series where we look at the use of league security departments, what they are, and how they work. We also discuss the role that NFL and MLB security might have as more states seek to offer legal sports betting.

Even before the demise of PASPA at the Supreme Court, sports leagues tried to finagle integrity fees. They assert that legal sports betting would result in a significant increase in costs as the leagues face a greater number of threats with sports betting operating in a legal marketplace.

Unfortunately for the leagues, their representatives to date have been unable to come up with a coherent accounting of what new costs they would incur. This likely has been an important factor in many states that have passed bills and excluded a fee of any kind for the leagues.

What is MLB’s Department of Investigations?

Each of the four major professional sports leagues employs a staff of security personnel who conduct investigations on behalf of the league and its member teams. MLB launched its investigations unit in response to Senator George Mitchell’s report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Following the launch of the department in 2008, former commissioner Bud Selig stated:

“The department of investigations will have critically important responsibilities in protecting the integrity of our sport,”

The department was a supplement to the league’s security unit. MLB’s announcement kept initial details of the unit’s scope and authority from both the media and the Players’ Association, whose representative, Don Fehr, said:

“We learned about this late last night. We had no role of any kind or sort in it.”

Dan Mullin, a former New York City deputy chief, was the first individual tasked with leading the investigations unit. Mullin would be replaced in 2014 by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Seeley. Seeley’s area of expertise was as a senior trial lawyer in the Washington, D.C. Fraud and Public Corruption section.

An archived job posting for a legal counsel position within the unit notes the following “Major Responsibilities”:

Past problems in the department

Much of the negative publicity associated with MLB’s investigations unit was associated with the Biogenesis investigation, which precipitated the exit of Mullin and four other members of the department from the organization. The misconduct of investigators was chronicled in a series by Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times.

The short version of the story is that MLB investigators and executives including Mullin and now-Commissioner Rob Manfred were dispatched to Miami to attempt to access documents used by the New Times to break the story of the Biogenesis scandal, which implicated many of baseball’s biggest stars.
MLB’s initial efforts were ineffective.

They eventually sent two former NYPD cops to meet with the possessor of the Biogenesis’ founder’s records, Porter Fischer. MLB allegedly made increasingly lucrative offers to Fischer (peaking at $125,000) for the documents and his signature on an affidavit. In the weeks after the offer, Fischer’s car would be broken into and all his records stolen. Shortly thereafter, MLB was able to purchase the records.

The obtaining of the records might appear suspicious, but evidence directly connecting MLB Investigations to the theft from Fischer’s vehicle is lacking. Allegations of other questionable conduct by Mullin is built on a firmer foundation, including an alleged affair with a woman linked to Biogenesis during the investigation.

The exploits of Mullin in the greater Miami area, however, are minimized when compared against those of “La Leyenda,” or “The Legend” as detailed in the book: Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era.

La Leyenda was also known as Joel Rengifo, a member of MLB’s department of investigations. Rengifo was dispatched to rescue then-Nationals prospect Wilson Ramos from kidnappers in Valencia, Venezuela. Rengifo allegedly used information from previous kidnappings to triangulate the position of where Ramos was being held. The resulting shootout ended with Ramos being rescued by Venezuelan authorities and continuing his MLB career.

While Rengifo’s heroics may have played a vital role in freeing Ramos, it raises questions as to what are the limits of the investigations department’s authority.

MLB Investigations role in gambling

In a deposition on November 19, 2012, Mullin described his job responsibilities as:

“…to protect the integrity of the game, and we do everything from investigations involving performance enhancing drugs, corruption, gambling, we do corporate due diligence, we do age and identity fraud in Latin America, we do internal issues involving players. Pretty broad — anything you could think of that requires investigative resources, we supply those for Baseball.”

When asked to provide details on how the department monitors gambling information, Mullin responded:

“Well, since the Black Sox scandal, I guess, Baseball — scandal has always been something that Baseball is focused on, preventing another scandal, and we’re always worried about the integrity of our game as it relates to the dangers of gambling. So within our department we monitor gambling trends, we monitor blogs, we monitor Twitter, we have a hotline for tips, and we try to monitor what’s going on with gambling in sports.”

When asked if the department speaks with sportsbooks in Las Vegas as part of its monitoring, Mullin stated:

“Not directly. We do annual seminars with the other professional leagues, the NCAA, and we do have speakers come to our seminars from sports books to speak about sports betting in Vegas.”

When asked if the department had any additional contact with Las Vegas sports books, Mullin said no.

In regards to the “tip line” which Mullin stated was part of the agency’s process for gathering information, he stated that in three and a half years, the tip line had generated exactly zero calls related to gambling.

However, the depeartment of investigations did help uncover a gambling ring involving the New York Mets’ clubhouse manager.

What does this mean for sports betting?

The past exploits of the investigations department are certainly noteworthy in the present era. While the league has taken efforts to clean house, appointing Bryan Seeley in 2014, there are many questions that exist about the organization’s competence and temperament to handle investigations.

The admission in 2012 that the department does not have a direct line to Las Vegas sportsbooks and Nevada regulators to monitor trends was a staggering failure, given that books and regulators have been perhaps the most important source in the fight against match-fixing of events in the United States. It is unclear whether Seeley has opened up the lines of communication with Las Vegas.

The past failures of MLB’s investigations department raises serious questions about what they would do with an integrity fee. While valuable in principle, the public exploits of the unit raise questions about their ability to provide value to law enforcement. When the agency is acting primarily out of its own interests, there may be a risk of undermining bona fide law enforcement investigations.

Clarifications: This story has been changed to refer to Mullin as a former deputy chief, instead of a former police officer.