Florida Investigator: I Warned Major League Baseball Not to Buy Stolen Records
Inside a conference room at Major League Baseball's modernist Manhattan headquarters, Rob Manfred stared down Alex Rodriguez. The fate of both men -- the future commissioner of baseball and the era's greatest slugger -- hung in the balance. Rodriguez was furiously fighting a record suspension for buying steroids from a Miami clinic called Biogenesis. It was October 17, 2013, and Manfred was being grilled about how MLB had obtained its evidence.
The gap-toothed, razor-sharp lawyer had directed baseball's probe of the Yankees' third baseman. He told the phalanx of attorneys gathered around the table that baseball's investigative team -- a crew of former cops, mostly from the NYPD -- had purchased clinic records from a South Florida felon named Gary Jones. Ears perked up when Manfred admitted to signing off on $125,000 in payouts to Jones, who went by the pseudonym "Bobby from Boca."
But there was a bigger question: Where had Jones gotten the files they hoped would prove Rodriguez had illegally juiced?
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"Did you know or believe that any of the documents that you purchased from Bobby from Boca -- Mr. Jones, Gary Jones -- had been stolen?" an attorney asked.
Manfred didn't hesitate. "No," he said. "No, not at the time."
But former Florida Department of Health investigator Jerome Hill now says he specifically warned Manfred's underlings about stolen records. Though he can't prove the information was passed on to Manfred, Hill says that weeks before MLB bought the documents, he emphatically warned a top baseball investigator that they had been taken from a whistleblower's car in a theft. Hill says he added that the missing documents were vital evidence in his criminal probe into the clinic.
Yet Manfred and his team bought them anyway. And the records were never returned to the lawman.
Hill's allegations -- told on the record for the first time to Miami New Times -- raise serious questions about the game's new commissioner and how his staff proved its case against Rodriguez and his fellow Biogenesis clientele. "I warned them very specifically that these records were stolen and they were important to a state investigation," he says.
MLB officials strongly dispute Hill's claims. Executive vice president Dan Halem acknowledges Hill spoke with an investigator named Ed Dominguez but says he passed along no specific warnings that would let baseball know Jones was selling stolen records.
"Jerome Hill has an axe to grind against Major League Baseball," Halem says. "We never knowingly bought stolen records."
That's not Hill's only jaw-dropping allegation.
The fiery, headstrong ex-cop is a colorful figure who played a central role in an explosive case that's already resulted in 15 baseball suspensions and ten federal indictments. The clinic's ringleader, a fake doctor named Tony Bosch, is scheduled to plead guilty this Thursday and faces up to a decade in prison.
In addition to his claims about Manfred, Hill also says:
- Miami Police officers bought drugs from Bosch, and steroids connected to the case disappeared from MPD's evidence room.
- The Florida Department of Health knew in 2009 that Bosch was illegally selling drugs to prominent athletes, including Dodgers slugger Manny Ramirez, but never notified Major League Baseball.
- Biogenesis' clientele included a Miami-Dade judge, numerous attorneys, and several professional athletes whose names have not been reported. Federal prosecutors now have that list.
Hill, though, is not just a good cop shut down by the Man. He has a record of complaints against him and a whipsaw temper. In 2008, he was run out of the Baltimore Police Department after punching another cop, and he was recently arrested for hitting his girlfriend in Broward County. He left the Florida DOH last month amid another internal investigation.
But Hill's allegations in the Biogenesis case are backed up by interviews, public records, and Bosch's own files. His allegations tarnish the historic steroid investigation overseen by Manfred, a bureaucrat who's barely been vetted by the national media. More significant, it could throw a new wrench into the federal case against the Biogenesis crew.
"Major League Baseball hindered my investigation," Hill says.
Jerome Hill, a short, muscular 35-year-old cop with almond-shaped eyes, switched off all the lights in his cruiser and slowly rolled up an alley behind a block of derelict row houses near Patterson Park. An hour earlier on January 25, 2008, an armed man had robbed a resident of this drug-riddled corner of Baltimore, and Hill was on the lookout for the suspect.
That's when the cop spotted a man clad in a baggy white T-shirt and jeans lingering on the corner. The figure quickly turned and walked away from the cruiser. Bingo, Hill thought. He sped down the block, flipped on his brights, then stopped and jumped out. "Show me your hands!" Hill hollered, moving toward the man.
When the suspect fumbled for something in his pocket, Hill lashed out. His fist nailed the man square in the throat. Gasping for air, he crumpled to the ground.
Several other cops rushed in from a van hidden in the dark around the corner. "No!" they screamed. "This is just a test!"
The punch was pure instinct, borne of years of patrolling the same Baltimore streets that inspired gritty scenes in The Wire. But the man writhing on the ground wasn't a robbery suspect. He was an undercover internal affairs officer placed on the corner because of complaints about Hill's aggressive tactics. Within hours, the attack landed Hill on the nightly news. He was charged with felony assault and pilloried by Mayor Sheila Dixon in the morning's Baltimore Sun, where her spokesman bemoaned cops "who aren't committed to the crime fight."
On one hand, the case -- and Hill's refusal to accept a plea deal to make it go away -- echoes the stubbornness that years later led him to defy his bosses and Major League Baseball to go after Tony Bosch. But it also points to a darker side, one that would force Hill out of multiple jobs for fighting authority.
"He was a damn good cop," insists Sgt. Charles Manners, a supervisor in the Baltimore PD. "Political situations here have changed the outcome of our policing in general, but he's a good cop... He had drug dealers on the run."
Jerome traces his tenacity to one man: his father, Victor Keith Hill. The elder Hill was born in Pittsburgh in 1937. The youngest of seven sons, he distinguished himself in high school as a top swimmer. When he enlisted in the Navy, his skills landed him work as a frogman -- an elite underwater operations expert, who later saw tours in Korea and Vietnam.
"They'd put bombs on his back, fly him over the ocean, drop him in, and then let him swim to a boat and strap [the bomb] on," Jerome says. "It was quite a career for a young man from Pittsburgh just trying to make it in the world."
After Vietnam, Victor Hill became a recruiter and worked his way up to master chief petty officer, the highest enlisted rank in the Navy. In New York, he met Irma, a daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants who was studying to be a dental assistant. The two married, and Jerome was born in 1973. The family moved back to Victor's native Pittsburgh when Jerome was still a baby.
Three younger siblings followed Jerome after Victor retired from the military and became a state boiler inspector. Jerome and his dad were eerily alike: charismatic, athletic, and opinionated to a fault.
"They're both headstrong, but I don't mean that in a bad way," says Kendra Hill, one of Jerome's sisters. "It requires a level of confidence and a certain level of belief to stand by what you think, and they both had that."
Those same shared traits, though, led to plenty of conflict. Jerome's dad pushed him hard to join the Navy, but after a lifetime living under military rules, he opted to move out and take a job at a local hospital.
"My dad was charming, charismatic, gregarious at times," Jerome says. "But he was also always military through and through thanks to 24 years in the service. The pillows had to be just this high above the bed bunk, you know?"
Jerome Hill's life changed forever when he was 23 years old. His girlfriend at the time got pregnant and gave birth to twins. Within a year, he says, she abandoned the family. Then the hospital program where Jerome worked lost funding and shut down. Suddenly the future cop was unemployed and with two young children.
Instead of moving in long-term with his parents, he took an apartment in Allegheny County's public housing projects. "They were enraged that I did that, to take their grandkids into a dangerous situation like that," he says. "And today as a parent, of course I can understand that... The challenge was part of it."
He continued tweaking authority. Frustrated by what he saw as a lack of action on the projects' many problems, he won election to the housing council. Then, about a year later, someone shot at him as he walked through the complex.
"I still don't know who it was or why they did it," he says. "My concern at the time was that the family I had ousted out of the council had become very vocal against me."
Rather than move out, he sat down with the housing authority's police chief, who had a proposal: Why not join the projects' cops instead? It was an appealing prospect. Jerome's younger brother, also named Victor, had been working for years in Clayton County, Georgia, as a deputy and liked the job.
So Hill signed on. It didn't last. He joined the force in January 2001 and left in 2003; the department's chief, Mike Vogel, declined to discuss why Hill quit and also refused requests for personnel records, citing local privacy laws. Hill says it was a simple matter of getting a better offer from the Baltimore PD.
Thanks to The Wire, which had only recently premiered, Baltimore cops would become synonymous with gritty street work, corruption, and violence. But at the time, Hill knew zilch about the job.
"I had no clue what I was getting into," he says. "It was evident the first three months in, you could see right away the force's attitude toward the people. There isn't an officer in Baltimore... who did not violate someone's civil rights."
Patrolling acres of old row houses -- "some of them with just two people living in a whole block," Hill says -- he saw police routinely arresting parks full of people to grill them for information. One night his brother Victor, who was elected Clayton County sheriff in 2004, visited for a ride-along.
"We had a hostage barricade situation, we had an arson, and we had a drug chase," Hill says. "This was all in one night. He couldn't believe the level of criminality that existed in one small area."
Hill's problems began in late 2007 when a drug addict sued the city, alleging Hill had torn up a dollar bill and shoved it up his ass. The case's sensational details made the nightly news, and the man eventually won a small settlement. (Hill admits tearing up the man's money but says it was because he caught him trying to buy drugs with counterfeit bills, a sure way to get murdered.)
A prominent local attorney began reviewing hundreds of Hill's other investigations, looking for more plaintiffs. That lawyer eventually filed five more cases, each on behalf of different people whom Hill had once arrested. Three of those cases were tossed, but a civil court awarded one man a $60,000 judgment against the city, and another settled for $1,500.
Baseball's next commissioner, Rob Manfred, led the Biogenesis investigation.
Photo by Arturo Pardavila III/Wikimedia Commons
Then internal affairs targeted Hill and staged the sting where he punched a fellow officer in the throat. Noting a host of issues, including the IA plant refusing to raise his hands, Hill says the probe was flawed from the beginning. "They're lucky I'm not an officer who goes quickly for his weapon," he says, "or it could have been very bad."
Hill was arrested and charged with felony assault, but he refused a plea deal. Instead, the charges went to trial, and a judge found Hill not guilty. "This is the problem in law enforcement," the judge said in the Baltimore Sun. "We put people in dangerous situations where they have to make decisions instantaneously that could be life-threatening."
(Incidentally, within a year of slamming Hill in the media, Mayor Sheila Dixon herself was indicted for multiple felony counts of theft and fraud; she later resigned and took a plea deal.)
The acquittal was sweet justice for Hill, but he was nevertheless fired.
He soon found an opening at the Florida Department of Health for a $36,000-per-year investigator. He had a feeling he could make a difference.
Porter Fischer glanced nervously at the sparse afternoon crowd at the Hooters on Pines Boulevard, abruptly halting his rapid-fire speech whenever a scantily clad waitress leaned over the table with another round of beer. Calm and collected, Jerome Hill sat across the table.
But then the man who sparked the Biogenesis scandal pulled out a stack of patient files and business records. They came from Biogenesis, he said, the steroid-slinging clinic where he had once worked.
Hill's eyes popped. It was early February 2013, and this, Hill knew, was exactly what a small army of MLB investigators was swarming South Florida to find. Hill scanned the crowd, looking for spies amidst the busty staff hauling hot wings.
"I was absolutely floored," Hill says. "I couldn't even begin to imagine how damning these records were."
Hill made Fischer a simple promise that day: If he cooperated and handed over the records, the investigator would do anything to ensure that Tony Bosch ended up behind bars. By the time they left Hooters, the investigator had rock-solid evidence of the biggest steroid case in baseball history.
"His only motive at the time was revenge," Hill says of Fischer. "His only benefit was seeing Tony Bosch go to jail."
That meeting was the first step in a remarkable three-month investigation that would pit Hill against his Tallahassee bosses and make him fear for his life.
The untold backstory of Hill's probe exposes how Major League Baseball affected the criminal case against the steroid dealers. "The reason this investigation ended up taking so damn long was because of them," Hill says. "They were screwing everything up so badly I had to work twice as hard."
Hill quickly determined that Bosch was not licensed to practice medicine in the United States. He decided to use the records to track down patients and build felony charges against the Biogenesis founder. But the investigator soon noticed a pattern. Nearly everyone he interviewed had already been visited by Major League Baseball's private eyes. They'd either been offered money to cooperate or threatened with lawsuits if they didn't. Both actions, Hill worried, might compromise the criminal case if Bosch and his cohorts were charged.
Even those tactics, though, paled in comparison to what happened March 24, 2013.
After the Hooters meeting, Fischer had handed Hill copies of Bosch's notebooks and business records (the same files that Fischer had given New Times for an investigation that was published in January 2013), but Fischer had many other boxes of Bosch's medical files. In late March, Fischer agreed to drive to Ocala, where he'd hidden them, to bring them to Hill.
On the way home, though, disaster struck. That Sunday afternoon, Fischer stopped in Boca Raton at a tanning salon where his friend Gary Jones worked. While he was inside getting a spray tan, someone busted out the window of his car and took the boxes of records.
Fischer called Hill, who in turn phoned Boca detectives to confirm the stolen records were important evidence in an ongoing criminal probe.
What's never been reported before is what Hill did next. The following morning, he called MLB's New York headquarters and spoke with Ed Dominguez, a former Boston cop and now one of the league's top investigators.
"I said, 'Ed, these files have been stolen,' " Hill recalls. "Porter Fischer was bringing them to me. If you have any knowledge of their whereabouts or if these files come your way, you are to bring them to the Florida Department of Health. These are patient files, and our investigation is ongoing."
Dominguez was silent for a long moment, Hill says, and then asked to call back. When he did, he said he didn't know anything about the theft and promised to "cooperate," Hill says.
It was the last time Hill spoke with the MLB crew.
Baseball officials openly describe what happened next. Soon after the theft, they received a call from a man calling himself "Bobby from Boca." He was actually Gary Jones, a tanning bed repairman who'd been convicted in the late '80s of federal counterfeiting charges.
Tony Bosch faces ten years in prison at his sentencing this week.
Courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department
A month earlier, Jones had obtained a different set of Bosch's Biogenesis records (it's unclear exactly how, but they weren't stolen) and sold them to Major League Baseball for $100,000. Now he said he had another stash. On April 16, 2013 -- three weeks after the theft -- he met with baseball's lead investigator, Dan Mullin, at Cosmo's Diner in Pompano Beach. Mullin paid him $25,000 for the new batch of records. Jones later said in a sworn statement that they were the same records stolen from Fischer's car.
Did Major League Baseball executives, including commissioner-in-waiting Rob Manfred, know the records were stolen?
MLB officials say absolutely not. Jones never told them where the second batch of records came from, Major League vice president Dan Halem and Mullin both say. So they had no reason to suspect he'd done anything illegal. "Jones said these were his documents, and there was no reason to believe they weren't his documents," Halem says.
Halem says MLB officials tried to talk to the Boca Police Department after Porter Fischer's break-in, but they found the department unhelpful. Police records confirm a private investigator named Kevin O'Rourke called Boca PD April 12 asking about the case. A detective called him back April 17 -- the day after the sale -- and told him he couldn't discuss details because the case remained open.
The Boca Police Department never passed along any of Jerome Hill's warnings, Halem claims. In fact, it was the opposite. "The Boca PD told our representatives that he had an axe to grind with us," Halem says. "Therefore, we've never put a lot of stock into his version of what happened."
But some Boca police records do seem to back up Hill's story. Boca cops spent months investigating the theft of Fischer's documents. In December, they arrested Reginald St. Fleur, a young employee at the tanning salon whose blood matched samples found at the robbery scene.
Boca PD's case didn't end there, though. A detective spent another four months probing whether St. Fleur acted alone. He closed his case this past April without filing any other charges but noted in his close-out report there was "evidence of involvement" by "several MLB investigators."
A Boca PD spokeswoman also confirmed to a Newsday reporter that an investigator had "warned MLB not to purchase the documents" and that the Boca detective was told of this conversation "before the documents were purchased." That investigator was Jerome Hill.
(Halem questions whether that claim is true, noting Boca's detective never recorded that warning in his initial police report.)
Another new, unreported piece of evidence from Boca PD's files casts even more doubt on baseball's willingness to help law enforcement.
Major League Baseball hired investigators to place Jones under heavy surveillance between March and April 2013. These private eyes watched from a nearby parking lot April 16 as their own lead investigator, Mullin, took boxes full of documents from Jones' trunk.
The private eyes then watched as Jones met up with St. Fleur -- the same young employee later charged in the theft -- and headed to a nearby T.J. Maxx, where the two went on a shopping spree and walked out with "several large shopping bags."
Major League Baseball handed over these surveillance records January 6, 2014, after Boca PD issued a subpoena. That's a full month after Boca PD had arrested St. Fleur. If baseball's investigators had sent the records sooner, it certainly could have made Boca PD's detective work a whole lot easier.
In the evidence room beneath the Miami Police Department's downtown headquarters, Jerome Hill peeled open a plastic bag taken from a crime scene inside a half-million-dollar Coconut Grove condo.
A few months earlier, the condo's owner -- a ripped, tattooed, Bugatti-driving Spaniard named Álvaro López Tardón -- had gone berserk on his wife. Tardón had grabbed a kitchen knife, cornered her in the laundry room, and promised to kill her while holding the blade to her throat.
Hill was more interested in what happened next. When police showed up, Tardón's wife told the cops what she believed had driven her husband over the edge: the copious steroids he'd been buying for years from a guy named Tony Bosch. She even showed the cops where he kept the 'roids in the fridge and watched as they bagged them as evidence.
Now Hill wanted those drugs for his own case. Those steroid samples could be the only physical evidence of Bosch's illegal pharmacy gig.
But as Hill opened the bag, his stomach dropped. The knife was there, but the steroids were nowhere to be found. "I was like, 'Oh, my God,' " Hill says. "That blew my mind. I checked with evidence control, and those steroids were gone."
For Hill, the disappearing steroids weren't an isolated problem. Coupled with a Miami Police sergeant's testimony that he had been a Bosch client, it was proof local cops were tied to the faux doctor.
Hill couldn't trust his fellow lawmen. "I could not go in and bring them into this case," he says.
So Hill continued investigating. As he dug through Bosch's records, he found a disconcerting array of prominent Miamians: businessmen, attorneys, even a sitting Miami-Dade judge. Plus scores of teenage athletes. "I talked to lawyers, architects; we even had a doctor who was going to Bosch as a patient," Hill says.
And some pharmacies that sold Bosch his medications, Hill learned, "clearly had organized crime associations... There were some really bad characters in this situation."
To make matters worse, the investigator's Tallahassee bosses began pressuring him to back off the case. New York tabloids were running wild with the Biogenesis news, and the DOH had little stomach for controversy.
But Hill had never been wired to kowtow to bosses -- especially not after promising Porter Fischer he'd put Bosch in jail. So he plowed on. In early April, he took sworn statements from Fischer and the wife of knife-wielding Tardón.
And then, while poring over customers' names, he noticed an appointment: "Sgt J. Gonzalez," Bosch's note said. Sgt?, Hill thought.
So he called the client, explained who he was, and set up a meeting April 16. The customer, he learned, was Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, a veteran Miami Police officer. Gonzalez's name appears nearly a dozen times in Bosch's notebooks. On February 7, 2011, his name even appears on the same page as the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.
Gonzalez confirmed to New Times he was a Biogenesis client and confirmed his testimony to Hill. Gonzalez told Hill he believed Bosch was a licensed doctor and had gone to the clinic to treat a legitimate medical problem: hypothyroidism.
He connected with Bosch after asking for a referral from another officer whom he'd noticed had lost weight, Gonzalez told Hill. (Intriguingly, that officer, Sgt. Raul Iglesias, was later convicted on federal corruption charges for stealing drugs and cash from dealers while running an MPD narcotics team; he's serving a five-and-a-half-year prison term. An unrelated scandal involving Iglesias is detailed on page 10. Iglesias declined to comment on Gonzalez's claims.)
Gonzalez told Hill he never saw any wrongdoing while at the clinic, though he became suspicious when Bosch ordered lab work and the papers came back with another doctor's signature. He also told Hill he saw county police officers at the clinic.
After taking Gonzalez's testimony, Hill headed to the evidence room to grab the steroids from the Tardón case.
When he discovered they were missing, he made a decision on the spot: That same afternoon, Hill took all of his evidence to state prosecutors.
The ex-cop surged with adrenaline. His months of work would finally pay off. He had three sworn statements as well as reams of invaluable records from the clinic. Tony Bosch was going down.
Among the evidence Hill passed along that day was a list of every notable figure he'd found in Bosch's patient lists. There were multiple professional athletes who haven't been named in news reports, Hill says. He declines to reveal those names but awaits further action. "I showed everything I found to the state attorney, and they've given that to the feds," he says.
Soon afterward, Hill received a note from his supervisor: The case was to be closed immediately. Bosch would be mailed a cease-and-desist letter and fined $5,000, which was later reduced to $3,000.
Hill was crestfallen. But he wasn't surprised. He'd already amassed plenty of evidence that the Department of Health had little interest in going after Tony Bosch.
The first brick wall Jerome Hill had run into while trying to build a case against Tony Bosch came not from secretive drug dealers or uncooperative witnesses; it came from the Department of Health's own attorneys.
A few weeks after opening the case, Hill had heard from good sources that the DOH had investigated Bosch at least twice before. One case was easy to find; in 2011 a tipster complained that Bosch was practicing medicine without a license and, embarrassingly, an investigator had closed the case without even bothering to talk to the fake doc.
But Hill was more interested in what happened in 2009. That's when then-Dodgers star Manny Ramirez had been suspended after failing a drug test, and Bosch and his father, Dr. Pedro Bosch, had been fingered by ESPN as the source. Had the DOH probed Bosch then?
Tallahassee refused to comment -- even to its own man. (When New Times asked about the case, a spokeswoman said that "due to confidentiality constraints... we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint.")
But Hill wasn't about to surrender. He tracked down the investigator who had handled the mysterious probe and learned she had obtained records from the Little Havana laboratory where Bosch sent blood samples. They proved Manny Ramirez was indeed a client of Bosch's -- as were other professional athletes. But rather than share these records with Major League Baseball or police, her superiors ordered her to shut the case.
"I was taken aback," Hill says. "They're so hamstrung by politics and a bureaucracy that is dedicated to playing things safe."
In fact, that early case was a harbinger of what was to come for Hill. His greatest moment as an investigator led to his leaving the department last month.
"Jerome was a good investigator," says Chris Knox, a former co-worker who has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the department over his own dismissal. "But they didn't want him to push the envelope... The truth is, if he'd done what his masters in Tallahassee had ordered, he'd still have a job today."
Personally, as well as professionally, Hill has hit hard times. He was arrested twice last summer for striking his then-girlfriend. In June he slapped her cheek, police say. Two months later, he slapped her again and threw her against a wall when she tried to leave him. He was charged with two counts of battery; the first was dropped by prosecutors, and in the second he agreed to a presentencing diversion program in exchange for the court withholding adjudication. Hill declined to discuss the case because he's still completing the program.
Today he's living in Tallahassee and trying to decide what to do next. He's probably done with law enforcement altogether. But he still wants to see justice done in Miami.
It may seem as if that's already happened. After all, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and Bosch's other clients all received lengthy suspensions and lost millions in salary. Dan Mullin was fired as the head of Major League Baseball's investigative unit earlier this year. Even Gary Jones has been charged in federal court with selling undercover agents an AK-47 and counterfeit pills. Bosch himself, meanwhile, faces a stint in the federal pen after pleading guilty this week.
But Hill says Major League Baseball's roughshod investigation has lingering consequences. Bosch is likely to get off easy because he struck a deal to cooperate with prosecutors. The only reason the feds even considered a deal, Hill says, is because MLB muddied the water with its payouts and intimidating techniques.
"That's what I'm furious about," he says. "They should have let the pros do what they had to do... MLB is responsible for letting this whole thing collapse."
"He's a good cop... He had drug dealers on the run."
"There isn't an officer in Baltimore... who did not violate someone's civil rights."
"These files have been stolen. If you have any knowledge of their whereabouts, you are to bring them to the Florida Department of Health."
"That blew my mind. I checked with evidence control, and those steroids were gone."
"MLB is responsible for letting this whole thing collapse."
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