Twelve jurors lingered next to a bank of elevators at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse late in May after deciding the NCAA did not defame former USC assistant coach Todd McNair.
During the three-week trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court, they had listened to 13 witnesses testify and watched scores of documents displayed on a big-screen television.
But the man at the center of the long-running case linked to the Reggie Bush extra benefits scandal never appeared. They wanted to know why.
“I think it would be great to hear from Lloyd Lake,” said Anthony Bruno, the jury’s foreman, said after the trial.
McNair served as Bush’s position coach in 2004 and 2005 when he became college football’s top running back. Lake wanted to partner with Bush on a multimillion dollar business deal. Much of the NCAA’s case against USC revolved around the three men.
In a series of interviews with The Times following the trial, Lake said he regretted the mess the scandal created. That includes the NCAA’s historic sanctions against USC after investigators from the organization found Lake and former business partner Michael Michaels gave Bush and his parents extra benefits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though Lake is focused on growing a Las Vegas-based family business selling pain-relief balm, the sting from the decade-old scandal remains.
“At the end, it could’ve all been avoided so easily,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how much damage was done to so many different people behind this. I hated to hear what Todd McNair was going through after this. That was never my intention. I hate that he got involved.”
McNair’s legal team declined comment as did a USC spokesman.
According to Lake, an NCAA representative asked his attorney in April about scheduling a deposition. It didn’t happen. Lake and Michaels weren’t on the list of 22 people McNair or the NCAA could call to testify at trial, either. Lake said he didn’t get the message about the deposition until the trial had ended. Regardless, he wasn’t interested.
Lake later added: “I think he was the scapegoat. I think everybody up there had knowledge of what was going on at USC, the program as a whole, not just Reggie. ... It was rampant right there.”
Lake said he provided about $5,000 in cash and a computer to two other USC football players during the same time period, though he declined to name them.
During the trial, attorneys and witnesses mentioned Lake’s name perhaps more than any person other than McNair. Michaels, who reached an out-of-court settlement with Bush in April 2007, wasn’t referenced nearly as often. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
One of McNair’s attorneys repeatedly assailed Lake as a convicted felon, former drug-dealer and gang member. McNair insisted he didn’t know Lake. An NCAA attorney tried to burnish Lake’s credibility during closing arguments: “You don’t judge the person. You judge the evidence.”
As the jury deliberated, Bruno spent six hours reading the group the 164-page transcript of Lake’s interview with NCAA investigators in November 2007.
Described as a would-be sports agent or marketer by attorneys, Lake prefers to be called a businessman. He didn’t want to become a sports agent. Instead, he envisioned a wide-ranging business deal with Bush and other partners that included the pain-relief balm, a sports agency, celebrity golf tournament and more.
“People who aren’t really familiar with the case and hear rumors, you know, they get upset because they think I was trying to take advantage of Reggie and it was like a plan to take advantage of the kid,” Lake said. “That’s absolutely what it wasn’t. ... It took a lot out of me going through it. You’ve got to deal with the rumors and the lies. So that was tough.”
According to Lake, he and Bush first met during the running back’s sophomore season at Helix High in La Mesa, near San Diego, when Lake provided the pain-relief balm to Bush.
In March 2005, Lake said, he exchanged phone numbers with McNair during a birthday party for Marshall Faulk in San Diego before Bush’s Heisman Trophy-winning season. Lake and McNair had at least one phone conversation, Lake said, in the months before the early-morning call in January 2006 that a witness during the trial called the “linchpin” of the NCAA finding McNair knew about Bush’s extra benefits. The coach testified he didn’t remember the call.
It took a lot out of me going through it. You’ve got to deal with the rumors and the lies.
“I never wanted anything to happen to him,” Lake said of McNair. “ … They basically had my word against his word.”
The call lasted just 2 minutes, 32 seconds, according to McNair’s phone records, but attorneys from both sides spent much of the trial dissecting what did or didn’t happen. Lake, though fuzzy on some details, said he reached out to McNair after a Bush associate threatened to have him jailed if he didn’t accept $30,000 to settle a dispute with the player over repaying the extra benefits. A representative of Bush didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Lake thought McNair could help.
“I was basically trying to talk to Todd about getting the situation alleviated. ‘Let’s settle this. Can you please get it fixed?’” Lake said. “He said he would and that’s why he called Reggie later that day to talk about it. Yeah, he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll get it taken care of’ and I guess Reggie wasn’t budging. ... It was just a courtesy call. ‘Please try to talk some sense into him.’”
McNair’s attorneys raised the possibility with several witnesses that Lake made the call from a noisy club or was intoxicated. He said he was at home and sober.
McNair’s phone records showed he phoned Bush about 12 hours after the call with Lake.
“I was trying to settle,” Lake said. “I didn’t want the NCAA to hit [USC]. I didn’t want Reggie to lose his Heisman Trophy. I didn’t want any of this. It was just a business deal that he could have easily settled because it was a small amount of money and he ended up paying millions of dollars fighting it and ended up settling anyway. It never made any sense to me.”
During the trial, one of McNair’s attorneys asked his client if he would’ve risked his career to intervene in the situation.
Lake said a USC booster offered him $750,000 to $1 million to resolve the dispute during a meeting at the booster’s office in Century City in 2007. Lake said he couldn’t recall the booster’s name, but said he worked as a lawyer. The deal, he added, didn’t happen.
Lake eventually sued Bush and his parents in October 2007, trying to recoup almost $300,000 in cash and gifts he claimed they received. Lake talked to NCAA investigators a few weeks later.
Lake and Bush reached a confidential settlement in April 2010. The NCAA sanctioned USC and McNair two months later.
“I just wanted to get my money back,” Lake said.
These days Lake’s attention is on the pain-relief balm. Dave Stewart, the former All-Star pitcher and Arizona Diamondbacks general manager, is listed on the company’s website as the chief executive. Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen endorses the product -- described as an “ancient Chinese formulation perfected over thousands of years ...” — on social media and the company’s website. Lake said Rite Aid drugstores started stocking the product nationwide about eight months ago. A company spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Lake said he hasn’t talked to Bush since the settlement and the last time he saw McNair was at a party in the Hollywood Hills in 2007 or 2008. Lake said McNair left without a word.
“I was never the person that they described me as,” Lake said. “I never really explained it because at the time I didn’t feel like I had to. I just listened to it. I’m focused on my family and business and it’s strictly business right now for me.”