MIAMI -- Along a busy, two-lane road through Miami's Kendall suburb, a wood fence and a white wrought iron gate form a security layer around a five-bedroom stucco home that was once listed for sale at $569,000. It's a house owned by Alex Rodriguez, according to property records. Although it has a pool on nearly an acre of land, it's a far cry from the chic digs Rodriguez recently purchased about 45 minutes away in South Beach.
If Rodriguez doesn't live here, who does? Yuri Sucart -- aka Rodriguez's infamous Cousin Yuri -- listed the home as his address on bankruptcy records filed in Florida in July. Cousin Yuri is perhaps America's most famous go-fer, a name familiar to anyone who watched Rodriguez deliver an awkward admission of steroid use at a 2009 press conference. Rodriguez blamed Sucart for procuring steroids, ferrying them from the Dominican Republic and injecting him, too.
"When Alex decided to go public, Yuri got thrown under the bus," says Jeffrey Sonn, an attorney for Sucart. "Yuri was banned from baseball. Everyone always thought, 'Well, Alex paid off Yuri.' Well, if that were true, why did he have to file for bankruptcy?"
Sucart was not made available for comment. Despite his anger with Rodriguez for labeling him a drug mule, and then allowing him to drown in debt, Sucart has kept quiet as a background player during Rodriguez's 20-year career, remaining loyal to his cousin. As Rodriguez fights MLB's 211-game ban for repeated doping violations, Rodriguez is counting on that family bond. The cousin who was in the red is suddenly golden to A-Rod.
With a prominent lawyer -- Sonn -- behind him, Sucart is fighting to prevent baseball from deposing him as a witness in MLB's tortious interference lawsuit against Biogenesis, the anti-aging clinic in Miami where owner Anthony Bosch allegedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to athletes, including Rodriguez. Sucart's challenge to baseball was denied in June, an outcome that prompted Sonn to file a writ with the Third District Court of Appeal in Florida. MLB would not comment on the ongoing litigation. "Major League Baseball's case never should have been filed," says Sonn. "You can't go after a third party if you believe that a player used performance-enhancing drugs. The remedy really is arbitration."
That quaint notion ended weeks ago. For MLB and Rodriguez, the courts have become a primary battleground under the confetti of legal filings. If Sucart loses his appeal and is deposed, he will play a pivotal role in whether Rodriguez ever plays baseball again when he is asked to divulge a family secret: To what extent did Rodriguez dope his way to baseball riches? Objections aside, certain questions for Sucart are sure to come:
What was Rodriguez's relationship with Bosch?
Sucart's name appeared on Bosch's client list. Sonn says Sucart went to Bosch -- who is not a licensed physician, an issue that federal authorities are investigating -- to address his weight problem and was listed next to a substance called HCL. "It's a commonly used drug for weight loss," says Sonn. "If you know Yuri, he is a heavy guy. So it would not be shocking that someone like him would use it." But two people with knowledge of Sucart's relationship with Bosch paint a different picture. They say that Sucart was the early middleman between Rodriguez and Bosch. When Sucart began focusing on looming bankruptcy, the cousins' already tense relationship further frayed. Rodriguez began communicating with the Biogenesis owner one-on-one. Any electronic trail could be part of the reported trove of evidence that MLB has in its case against Rodriguez.
What was the extent of Sucart's role in Rodriguez's doping?
Sonn says that at a hearing in July, Major League Baseball divulged its motive to depose Sucart.
"I think it was made known that if [Sucart] didn't cooperate, they were going after him," says Sonn. "A lawyer for one of the other witnesses said, 'Well, judge, they've already got Tony Bosch, so why is this lawsuit going on?' One of baseball's lawyers stood up and said, 'Judge, we want to go after the drug mules.'"
The circle of enablers and facilitators is important in MLB's aggressive approach to catching dopers. In 2009, Rodriguez blamed his cousin when describing his ham-handed approach to doping from 2001 through 2003, even though such an unsophisticated operation is unlikely, given the instruction it takes to inject PEDs properly and effectively. When Sucart injected Rodriguez, who was his instructor? When Sucart procured steroids, where was his distributor? The same questions could be applied to Rodriguez's relationship with Bosch. Did Sucart administer or broker drugs from Bosch for his cousin?
Did Sucart witness other incidents of doping over the years?
In 2009, as the Yankees were rolling toward a World Series title, Rodriguez was a patient of Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, the convicted growth-hormone distributor and proselytizer. What knowledge does Sucart have of their relationship? For much of his career, Rodriguez was a client of trainer Angel Presinal, who was banned by MLB from player areas in-stadium after a 2001 incident at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Canadian agents seized a duffel bag from Presinal filled with syringes and steroids. What did Sucart know about Presinal?
Sucart would not relish an opportunity to flip on his cousin, despite their rift. While it is clear that Rodriguez did not save his cousin from a financial fall tied to a Miami real estate market crushed during the recession, Rodriguez has been Sucart's only employer for more than 18 years. According to court records, AROD Corp. continued to pay Sucart a $100,000 annual salary to be Rodriguez's personal assistant through 2010, but by April of 2011 Sucart had filed for bankruptcy and was in foreclosure on four properties with liabilities of $1.6 million and assets of $635,100. He was trying to carve out a rental-property income to give himself a business outside of AROD Corp., but the plan fell apart. Sucart's own home fell into foreclosure when it lost nearly $400,000 in value after its purchase in 2006. Neighbors say Sucart has been living in the Kendall-area investment property owned by Rodriguez and maintaining its upkeep for more than a year.
Whatever tensions exist between the cousins, the connections between them remain as Rodriguez continues his politics-of-destruction campaign against MLB under a Big Top with the "step-right-up" persona of Rodriguez's legal team. The arbitration hearing is in recess and is set to resume on Nov. 18. If Rodriguez does not at least whittle down the suspension, he will lose $31 million in pay over the 211 games and be unable to begin collecting on $30 million in marketing bonuses for achieving historic home-run records. His contract calls for him to receive $6 million each time he passes an iconic slugger, beginning with Willie Mays at 660 home runs. Rodriguez is currently fifth all-time with 654.
How legitimate are those home runs? If anyone knows, it's Sucart. Along with longtime friend Pepe Gomez, Sucart has been with Rodriguez since childhood. Sucart is 13 years older than Rodriguez, but lived in the same home with him for several years and moved to Seattle when his cousin was a rookie with the Mariners.
The fly on the wall through each controversy has been Sucart, a cousin who may be placed on a witness hot seat if he loses his appeal. "[Sucart] has been dragged into something he should have never been dragged into," says Sonn, who puts up a passionate defense of his client. Sonn is a well-respected, recognized lawyer in South Florida who has appeared as a legal analyst on cable and network news shows. Sonn is not cheap. When asked how he was being compensated, given Sucart's recent financial distress, Sonn says he took the case because it has value to him as a high-profile litigation opportunity. Sonn says he has had no contact with Rodriguez and his interest is motivated by the historic nature of the case.
"If baseball is successful in bringing this case, it is going to alter the landscape of employer law across the country," he says. "It will allow employers to go around collective bargaining agreements. This will affect hockey and football and basketball. This will affect all of sports. That's the big picture.
"If we're right [in the appeal], and I think we are, the appellate court hopefully will overturn the order permitting discovery and it could possibly throw out baseball's entire case."
If that happens, Sonn says the 12 players who were suspended by MLB in the Biogenesis case -- and accepted their punishments -- could claw back money and sue baseball for damages. If so, a bankrupt mule could restore a bounty of riches for everyone, including his famous cousin A-Rod, who, for now, has at least provided Sucart with a nice roof over his head.