The Mariners knew all about Josh Lueke's 96-mph fastball when they acquired him from the Texas Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal. But Mariners executives insisted they knew nothing before the July 9 trade about the 25-year-old minor-leaguer facing felony charges in a rape and sodomy case.
The Mariners knew all about Josh Lueke’s 96-mph fastball when they acquired him from the Texas Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal.
But Mariners executives insisted they knew nothing before the July 9 trade about the 25-year-old minor-leaguer facing felony charges in a rape and sodomy case in which he later pleaded no contest to a lesser charge.
However, new information appears to contradict the Mariners’ original version of events. Former Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair said he told general manager Jack Zduriencik about Lueke’s troubles well before the deal.
And contrary to Mariners claims that there was nothing they could do after the trade, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said he made a standing offer that night to take Lueke back.
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Police and court documents show Lueke lied multiple times to police investigating the suspected May 2008 sexual assault of an unconscious 22-year-old woman in a Bakersfield, Calif., apartment shared by the pitcher and his Class A teammates.
The case is potentially embarrassing for the Mariners, who run an annual Refuse to Abuse campaign and have long supported groups opposing violence toward women.
Adair, a minor-league pitching coordinator with the Rangers during the 2008 rape investigation, says he warned Zduriencik about Lueke’s situation.
“I told him everything I knew about every prospect I was asked about, including Lueke, including any court case,” said Adair, who was fired Aug. 9 along with Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. “Everything I knew to be accurate, I told them.”
Mariners President Chuck Armstrong said he learned of Lueke’s case by reading media accounts published hours after the trade. He ordered Zduriencik to phone Texas GM Daniels back that night and get a player-to-be-named substituted in Lueke’s place.
“We tried that on Friday night,” Armstrong said. “But then, on Saturday morning, the Rangers said, ‘No, we’ve already notified the players. The deal stands as is.’ “
But Daniels said the Mariners could have sent Lueke back. “We offered several times to reacquire Lueke in a separate transaction — an offer originally made the same night the deal was announced,” he said in an e-mail to The Times. “That offer stands.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound reliever is one of a handful of standout Class AAA prospects playing in Tacoma with a chance to be promoted by the Mariners now that roster limits have expanded as of Wednesday.
“There really is no good reason for me to go into details about what happened there,” Lueke said last week. “I got into a situation that I shouldn’t have. Used poor judgment. And I’ve paid the price for the mistakes of what I’ve done.”
Court documents show Lueke lied to police during the summer of 2008, saying he’d had no physical contact with the victim, who said she passed out drunk on a bathroom floor and woke up the next morning disheveled, feeling violated and not knowing what happened.
But DNA tests came back in March 2009, linking Lueke to semen found inside the woman. He was arrested April 29, 2009. That’s when he changed his story and said they’d had consensual sex.
Lueke said he was intimidated by questioning and lied out of fear that his girlfriend would find out.
More than a year after the investigation began, the victim gave her consent for prosecutors to offer a plea deal because she was worried about the stress of a trial. Sources close to the case say that after her ordeal, she could no longer sleep in the dark, went through extensive therapy and bouts of depression and eventually lost her job.
Lueke pleaded no contest — recognized in criminal court as the equivalent of a guilty plea — to a reduced charge of false imprisonment with violence and was sentenced Nov. 19 to the 42 days he had served in jail before posting bail, and three years’ felony probation.
On suspended list
Zduriencik said he’d asked the Rangers’ Daniels before the trade why Lueke had pitched in only four games in 2009 and had been on the team’s suspended list.
Zduriencik said he was told there had been an incident at a bar involving the woman and a third party and that Lueke had been “acquitted.” “So, at that point, we took their word for it,” said Zduriencik, who was interviewed alongside Armstrong last week.
Daniels apologized later, Zduriencik said. “He was sorry that everything wasn’t revealed prior to it,” he said. Zduriencik said Daniels still wouldn’t rescind the trade and “the deal was done.”
Daniels acknowledged mistakenly using the word “acquitted,” but disputed the Mariners’ version as having “significant factual inaccuracies.”
“I did not characterize the situation as it was suggested,” Daniels wrote in an e-mail. “We were not asked for any details of the situation until after the deal was consummated, though we understood that Seattle knew about it otherwise.”
When asked why he believed the Mariners knew about Lueke’s situation before the trade, Daniels declined further comment.
Adair would not divulge details of his conversations with Zduriencik about prospects. Asked whether he’d discussed Lueke’s charges or jail time, Adair said that was “common knowledge” and repeated: “I told him about everything that I knew on and off the field.”
Zduriencik said he and Adair spoke roughly 10 days before the deal about the on-field abilities of 15 to 20 prospects. “And that was the extent of our conversation,” the Mariners’ GM said.
Later, when told that Adair said their talks entailed “everything he knew” including any rape case or jail time, Zduriencik replied: “If I knew the severity of it, then I probably would have done a whole lot more work prior to the deal.”
Armstrong said he’d noticed the suspension in Lueke’s bio information hours before the deal.
“I asked Jack, ‘Have you checked this out?’ ” Armstrong said. “And he said, ‘Yes, I talked to Jon Daniels and he told me that this was an incident in a bar in Bakersfield … ‘ And Jack said he [Daniels] told him that Lueke had been acquitted, or exonerated. And I said, ‘So, it’s over? No big deal?’ He said, ‘No big deal.’ “
Police reports show the victim attended a Bakersfield Blaze home game on May 22, 2008, with friends, spoke with players and wound up with a group of them, including Lueke, at a bar. There was a fight outside between some players and an unidentified man eyewitnesses claim had flirted with the woman, but Lueke was not involved.
The woman later accompanied Lueke and three of his teammates to the apartment, where two other women were present. The victim told police she barely remembered leaving the bar and that, while sick in the apartment’s bathroom, a player she could not identify came in and masturbated over her.
She next remembered waking up on a downstairs couch, her bra missing and pants pulled down. The woman went to a hospital for a rape examination.
She told police she didn’t see who had assaulted her.
Lueke initially told investigators everyone went upstairs to bed and left the woman in the bathroom. When another person said Lueke talked the next morning of going downstairs during the night and seeing the woman naked, police questioned Lueke again.
This time, he admitted going downstairs and seeing her lying on a couch, covered with a sheet, her clothes on the floor.
Lueke acknowledges that he lied. “I was just scared at the time, not knowing exactly what could happen,” Lueke said.
David Wilson, deputy district attorney for California’s Kern County, said that, unlike Lueke’s account, the victim’s story remained consistent.
Nonetheless, he believed the involvement of alcohol, and the victim’s claim that she was unconscious, might make it difficult to win a conviction from a jury.
Also, he worried that Lueke’s claim that the sex was consensual could weaken the impact of the DNA findings.
“In the end, we mutually agreed that, given that a conviction was less than certain, the best thing to do was a plea bargain that would save everyone the stress of a trial,” Wilson said.
In July 2009, the prosecution offered a three-year prison term; Lueke held out and got the time-served deal. The woman insisted Lueke read an apology in court at his Nov. 19 sentencing.
“I understand that my actions hurt you and made you feel violated and I’m sorry for that,” Lueke read.
Lueke now hopes to put the case behind him.
“I am a good person,” he said. “You could ask any one of my teammates, my friends, or even people who have just come into my life in the brief period I’ve been in pro ball, that actually know me.”
A no-contest plea can’t be used in a civil lawsuit as an admission of guilt. Lueke’s victim hasn’t filed a lawsuit and sources close to the case say she never intended to.
No Web search
Some teams do Google, Facebook and background searches on prospects. The Mariners didn’t do a Web search, which would have flagged Lueke’s case.
When asked why, Zduriencik replied: “In all the deals I’ve been in all the years, I can’t remember anybody saying ‘I’m running a Google [search]’ to figure out what a player’s done.”
He added: “That is our policy now. We are doing that. We have done that since that moment.”
Armstrong has met with his team’s Refuse to Abuse partners to explain why he traded for someone with Lueke’s past. “I’ve talked to them and explained what we learned and knew,” Armstrong said last week. “And that we didn’t know this before we acquired him.”
Lueke was flown to Seattle two days after the trade and advised of the team’s zero-tolerance policy.
“He’s part of our organization, he understands our policies, he understands that there’s a short leash … and believe me, we do not take it lightly,” Zduriencik said. “I think he understands that from us and here we are. We’re moving forward and he’s pitching for us.”
Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report. Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.