The FBI confirmed today that it is investigating allegations that agents in Florida did personal favors for New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
"Information and allegations contained in published reports are being looked into by the FBI's internal review unit," FBI spokesman Greg Jones said.
"The allegations will be thoroughly examined and it would be inappropriate to comment on this matter in a piecemeal fashion until the internal review is complete."
Allen McCreight, the current head of the Tampa, Fla., FBI office, has denied any wrongdoing by the bureau or its agents.
Steinbrenner, forced to give up day-to-day control of the Yankees on July 30 by Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, also owns the American Ship Building Co. in Tampa.
The New York Times, which reported today on the FBI's decision to investigate the allegations, reported last week that Steinbrenner's connections in the FBI's Tampa division gave him confidential information on admitted gambler Howard Spira and other associates and helped him obtain a presidential pardon.
In return, Steinbrenner invited FBI officials to his personal box at Tampa Bay Buccaneer games and offered high-paying positions to those who were especially helpful.
Retired agents quoted but not identified by the Times said the background checks made for Steinbrenner were part of a long pattern of assistance orchestrated by Phillip McNiff, a former FBI agent who is now a vice president at American Ship Building.
McNiff reportedly used his contacts to get information on Spira from FBI computer files.
The Times also reported that McNiff pressed a U.S. attorney for an indictment against Spira. Spira was indicted on charges of extorting $40,000 from Steinbrenner for information to discredit outfielder Dave Winfield.
Steinbrenner's three-year association with Spira and a $40,000 payment to Spira was behind Vincent's decision to ban Steinbrenner from taking part in the Yankees' day-to-day operations.