Editor’s note: This story was published in 2015.
The Patriots, in an unusual departure from National Football League practice, have created a revenue stream for a private business owned by their franchise quarterback, Tom Brady, and a partner who faced federal sanctions after falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor and deceptively promoting nutritional supplements.
One notable product that Brady’s partner, Alejandro “Alex” Guerrero, promoted — and the quarterback enthusiastically endorsed — was marketed as helping to prevent and heal concussions, a grave health issue for NFL players and a challenge to the sport’s image. The Federal Trade Commission effectively shut down sales of Guerrero’s “neuroprotective’’ drink, Neurosafe, in 2014, repudiating his “extraordinary claims.’’
Nine years earlier, the FTC sanctioned Guerrero, who doubles as a fitness specialist, for marketing a beverage made largely of organic greens that he falsely claimed could help prevent or cure cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
Guerrero’s past has not dissuaded the Patriots from forging a business relationship with the company he owns with Brady, the TB12 Sports Therapy Center, at the Patriots Place complex adjacent to Gillette Stadium. Since the center opened in 2013, the team has paid the company for Guerrero and his staff to provide treatment services and nutritional advice to multiple Patriots players.
The Globe did not determine how many players Guerrero and his staff have treated or how much money the Patriots have paid Brady and Guerrero’s company. The team and the two principals all declined to comment.
The NFL says it is aware of the arrangement and has taken no action, despite questions from some specialists in sports law and economics about whether teams should pay for services by for-profit companies owned by their active players and whether the relationship provides value to Brady that should be counted against the club’s salary cap.
Some of Guerrero’s former associates also wondered why Brady and the Patriots would want to forge financial relationships with an entrepreneur whose history of legal trouble includes business partners accusing him of fraud.
“I’ve seen Alex work as a massage therapist and he’s impressive,’’ said Michael Howell, who met Guerrero through the Mormon church — both are members — and partnered with him in a marketing enterprise that resulted in federal sanctions against both of them. “But as far as having him as a business partner or a friend in life, you’ve got the wrong guy.’’
A Globe review of Guerrero and his ties to Brady and the Patriots also found:
• The financial arrangement with TB12 has continued despite complaints from the team’s medical and training staffs to Patriots coach Bill Belichick about Guerrero’s alternative health practices and questionable background.
A source with direct knowledge of one such complaint recalled Belichick’s response: Tom wants him. What am I supposed to do?
• The Patriots have accommodated Guerrero, who is also the godfather of Brady’s son Ben, by dedicating a room at Gillette Stadium for him to treat players away from the regular medical and training staffs. They have routinely granted him sideline credentials for home and road games. He travels on the team’s chartered jet, and earlier this year he received a diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring engraved with team owner Robert Kraft’s motto, “We are all Patriots.’’
• The Patriots and Brady permitted Guerrero to continue treating players and TB12 clients during a 14-month state investigation into allegations he was practicing physical therapy without a license. He was cleared last year in a letter instructing him to abide by state regulations in supervising licensed therapists at the TB12 center.
• Guerrero, in addition to running afoul of the FTC, also has a long history of financial troubles, bankruptcies, and legal entanglements. They include, he said in a deposition, the US Securities and Exchange Commission investigating him in 2011. SEC enforcement records indicate that no public action was taken against him.
A loyal, and profitable, friendship
Guerrero’s admitted falsehoods through the years have included him claiming he conducted a clinical study in which all but eight of 200 terminally ill patients lived at least five years by following his alternative health recommendations. He also said in a deposition that he had once falsely claimed to have sold a company for $500 million to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.
To date, Brady’s loyalty to Guerrero has remained steadfast. If not for Guerrero’s life-altering intervention as his “body coach’’ a decade ago, Brady has said, he would not be who he is today: a reigning Super Bowl champion who, at age 38, is outperforming elite quarterbacks throughout the sport.
“I have a tremendous belief in Alex and what he has accomplished with me,’’ Brady said in October on WEEI. “In the 10 or 11 years we’ve been working together, he has never been wrong.’’
Any profit Brady’s TB12 center may realize from Guerrero’s financial arrangement with the Patriots — they pay the center’s market rate of $200 an hour to treat their players — almost certainly represents a small fraction of his football salary. But the Patriots could be seen as providing additional value by effectively partnering with Brady’s therapy center, while other physical therapy companies pay large sums to sponsor NFL teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.
If Brady profits from the arrangement, “then this would seem to be in violation of the salary cap, at least in spirit,’’ said Daniel Rascher, a sports economist at the University of San Francisco who has consulted for the NFL.
As for additional value, Rascher said, “It is a big deal for medical groups to be the official providers for professional teams. They pay handsomely for that privilege.’’
The NFL has raised no such concerns, telling the Globe in a statement, “We are aware of the arrangement and have not determined that there is any violation of the CBA [collective bargaining agreement].’’
The NFL Players Association said the arrangement between the Patriots and Brady’s center “has no implication on the salary cap.’’
The union and the NFL declined to discuss the matter in detail.
Several authorities on professional football business said there appears to be little precedent for teams buying services from companies owned by active players.
“It would be rare indeed for an NFL player to have some outside business where there would be a vendor relationship with any franchise,’’ said Roger Abrams, who teaches sports and labor law at the Northeastern University School of Law.
The NFL labor agreement requires a player’s contract to include a provision detailing any agreement in which he is compensated by a team for non-football services. A source familiar with Brady’s contract said it does not include such language.
As for Guerrero, when the Globe asked the Patriots in October to describe their relationship with him, they categorized him as an independent service provider.
“While he has never been a member of our training staff, we have provided him access to work with some of our players,’’ the team said in a prepared statement.
The financial arrangement between the team and the center became clear through a subsequent Globe inquiry into an e-mail Brady sent in February to Robyn Glaser, the Patriots’ general counsel. In the e-mail, which the players’ union released in August during Deflategate legal proceedings, Brady requested a payment to the TB12 center.
“I am sure you have been swamped,’’ Brady’s e-mail stated. “I am back in town now. Do you know if this invoice has been paid to tb12? thanks Robyn happy Sunday.’’
The bill, it turned out, represented a balance due for Guerrero providing treatment services to Brady’s teammates.
A wide roster of clients
For Brady, Guerrero proved his worth as an adviser soon after they met nearly a decade ago. In his early days as a Patriot, Brady was hardly the epitome of a health-conscious eater. He often stopped at a pizza house not far from Gillette, where his happy meal was a ham and cheese grinder with onion rings, washed down with orange soda.
Then he met Guerrero, who schooled him in alternative approaches to nutrition, health, and training. Guerrero’s recommended diet involves a balanced intake of acidic and alkaline foods, supplemented with vitamins, green drinks, and the nutrient methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, a natural sulfur compound. His physical training regimen focuses on optimizing Brady’s endurance and flexibility rather than brute strength.
Brady described Guerrero last year to reporters as “probably the best in the world’’ at his craft.
Brady told Sports Illustrated last year that Guerrero may inspire his post-football career: He hopes to focus on spreading the gospel of healthy living.
“This is what people really need to know,’’ Brady said.
Guerrero’s work with Patriots players precedes his relationship with Brady. He began providing therapy to then-linebacker Willie McGinest at Gillette nearly 15 years ago. On McGinest’s recommendation, other prominent Patriots began seeing Guerrero.
The roll call of Patriots who have since credited Guerrero with helping them extends from Lawyer Milloy to Ty Law to Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Aaron Hernandez to current players such as Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The late Junior Seau dubbed him “Mr. Miyagi,’’ the mystical healer of “The Karate Kid’’ fame, for his therapeutic skills.
But a deeper look at Guerrero, including a review of court records nationwide, casts him in sharp relief as an entrepreneur with two professional profiles. At 50, Guerrero is both a “body coach’’ of broad acclaim, and a supplement marketer with a record of legal trouble longer than Brady’s career.
As a fitness adviser, Guerrero has been portrayed as charming, spiritual, generous, and skilled. A father of four, he is a former Mormon missionary who has reported tithing at least 10 percent of his income to the church, even during periods of financial hardship.
“As a person and a friend, there’s nobody better, or a person I enjoy as much as Alex,’’ Brady said on WEEI. “He’s been an incredible influence in my life.’’
Taking on two career tracks
Born in San Bernardino, Calif., the son of Argentine immigrants, Guerrero graduated in 1983 from Monrovia (Calif.) High School, where he played junior varsity tennis and performed in stage plays such as “The Miracle Worker.’’ At Monrovia, he was two years ahead of Alicia McGlone, whom he married in 1988.
Financial distress soon followed, and by 1992 the Guerreros filed their first bankruptcy petition. Compounding their woes was the death of Alicia’s father, Vayland McGlone, in 1991, at age 50.
Guerrero has said McGlone’s death inspired him to become an alternative health practitioner. According to a transcript of a 2003 sales presentation, Guerrero alleged McGlone received such substandard care for skin cancer that doctors amputated his right arm, scapula, and clavicle, as well as removing three ribs, before he died.
“I vowed at that time that nobody in my family would ever suffer like that again,’’ Guerrero said.
In the same presentation, Guerrero falsely portrayed himself as a medical doctor and lied that he had obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology. In fact, he attended Glendale (Calif.) Community College, the Santa Monica School of Massage, and the now-defunct Samra University of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles, where he received a degree in traditional Chinese medicine.
Newly steeped in insights about alternative health care, Guerrero by the mid-1990s had embarked on dual career tracks, launching dietary supplement companies and opening a therapy center, Muscle Works.
His therapy work connected him with three of his first prominent clients: McGinest, former NFL player Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, and the late professional boxer Genaro (Chicanito) Hernandez. He became so close to them that they visited his home and family.
Hernandez made Guerrero the godfather of his son, as Brady later did with his. Yet before Hernandez died of cancer in 2011 at age 45, he alleged that Guerrero had cheated him out of $200,000 he had planned to leave his wife and young children.
Hernandez told ESPN Deportes that Guerrero agreed to repay him $4,000 monthly. But after he gave Guerrero the money, Hernandez said, he never heard from him again.
Guerrero “being part of my family and doing something like this and leaving me broke is just shameless,’’ Hernandez said in a story published in 2011 on the World Boxing Federation’s website.
Guerrero’s lawyer, Jake Hinkins, said he denies the allegation.
McGinest, who joined the Patriots in 1994 out of the University of Southern California, helped Guerrero expand his clientele. Over time, Guerrero treated stars throughout professional sports, from the NFL’s LaDainian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu, to the NHL’s Sidney Crosby, to the WNBA’s Lisa Leslie.
McGinest has publicly praised his former fitness coach. However, Guerrero’s public image began to suffer in October after Boston Magazine and the Daily Mail Online detailed some of the allegations against him, focusing on his marketing of dubious supplements. When the Globe recently asked McGinest by phone to discuss Guerrero, he hung up mid-conversation.
Court records show Guerrero began running into legal trouble in 2000, when his company, Legacy International, was sued for allegedly breaching a contract with a supplement manufacturer in California. Yet even before a judge ruled against the company, Guerrero and his wife again sought bankruptcy protection, this time requesting protection for Legacy International as well.
The creditors included Patricia Sheranian, who ran the company’s Utah branch until she arrived one day and found the office all but empty, her job gone. She sued Guerrero in bankruptcy court, hoping to recover $137,000 in lost wages. She received a $25,000 settlement and Guerrero admitted no wrongdoing.
“I don’t have any bad feelings toward Alex,’’ Sheranian said. “I was just upset when he took off and didn’t pay me.’’
Success fueled by deception
Guerrero came out of bankruptcy in 2001 with his fitness business intact and renewed interest in the supplement industry. Soon he was aligned with two California entrepreneurs, one of whom he met through the Mormon church. The other was a client at Muscle Works.
Howell, the fellow Mormon, and Greg Geremesz, the therapy client, owned a supplement company called Healthy Solutions. They said Guerrero impressed them with his knowledge of herbal remedies and his persuasive sales persona.
“He comes across as very believable and honest and loving and caring, which is why I wanted him on television,’’ Geremesz recalled.
Healthy Solutions arranged to make a 30-minute TV infomercial, starring Guerrero, with two Massachusetts companies, ITV Direct and Direct Marketing Concepts. The product was “Supreme Greens with MSM,’’ a blend of 39 ingredients, including organically grown grasses and vegetables, which the infomercial claimed could prevent or cure cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Guerrero cited his purported study of 200 terminally ill patients to support the product’s efficacy.
The infomercial was a stunning success. In Boston alone, the 30-minute program ran 82 times over several months on what is now Comcast SportsNet New England. With “Dr. Alex Guerrero’’ pitching the product, viewers nationwide bought nearly $14.7 million of “Supreme Greens with MSM’’ before media and government watchdogs intervened.
In April 2004, ABC’s “20/20’’ aired parts of an interview in which Guerrero acknowledged he had never conducted a study of terminally ill patients and had no scientific support for his therapeutic claims about the supplement.
Two months later, the FTC civilly charged nearly everyone involved in producing the infomercial with false advertising.
“Consumers throughout the United States have suffered and continue to suffer substantial monetary loss and possible injury to their health because of the’’ infomercials, the FTC alleged.
Guerrero settled the case by forfeiting his Cadillac Escalade, valued at $65,000, to the commission. He agreed to never again present himself as a doctor and to refrain from further deceptive promotions.
Howell and Geremesz also settled, paying the commission $5,000 and $10,000, respectively.
Hinkins portrayed Guerrero as a minor player in the episode. Indeed, the most severely sanctioned were the principals of ITV Direct and Direct Marketing Concepts, who were ordered to pay the FTC nearly $49 million for a series of deceptive infomercials, including the Supreme Greens program.
Guerrero, in court documents, denied many of the allegations. But Brady has said Guerrero acknowledges making mistakes and has expressed regret for them.
“That’s part of growing up and understanding there are certain things that happen in life that you wish you didn’t do,’’ Brady said in his radio appearance.
Guerrero’s former partners estimated he walked away from the infomercial campaign with more than $600,000. By 2005, Guerrero and his wife had bought a California home for more than $1.1 million.
He published a book that year, “In Balance for Life: Understanding and Maximizing Your Body’s pH Factor,’’ in which he stated “each day, I witness how clients suffering from every conceivable malady experience dramatic improvements in their health after implementing the very principles you will discover in this book.’’
In 2006, Guerrero sold the family’s California home for $1.35 million and bought a $949,000 retreat in Utah with scenic mountain views.
Meanwhile, he was commuting to Foxborough to work with Brady. As they grew closer, Guerrero launched another supplement company, Bioforce, in 2007, and began marketing MyoMed, a medicated body lotion, with Brady’s endorsement (“I use MyoMed because I have no time for pain,’’ Brady stated in a press release).
When Brady suffered his career-threatening injury in 2008 that required reconstructive knee surgery, Guerrero stayed by his side, closely participating in his care.
“He was pretty much ever-present before, during, and after the surgery,’’ said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a Los Angeles orthopedist who performed the operation.
ElAttrache said his traditional medical practices ran counter to some of Guerrero’s alternative methods. But he said he was impressed with Guerrero’s care for Brady and other NFL players he has operated on, including McGinest and Haloti Ngata.
“There are some things Alex does that I don’t particularly understand and wouldn’t be able to do myself, but from what I’ve seen from some of the athletes I’ve worked on and Alex has worked with, they have done very well,’’ ElAttrache said.
The Patriots medical and training staffs played vital roles in Brady’s recovery, particularly head trainer Jim Whalen and rehabilitation director Joe Van Allen. But they have received far less public credit than Guerrero from Brady, and there remains tension between the Patriots staff and Guerrero.
When the New York Times Magazine asked Guerrero in January if the philosophies of conventional team trainers ever clash with his methods, he said, “Most of the time.’’
“Everyone thinks I’m a kook and charlatan,’’ he said.
Kraft told the magazine Guerrero’s role with the team “doesn’t come without its challenges.’’
“But we have a coach that’s accepting, and we have a leader of the franchise who’s driving it,’’ Kraft said.
Lawsuits and new sanctions
As the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2009, Brady, then 32, began a period of sustained excellence that has established him as perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time. As he has thrived, Brady has tried to help Guerrero as well.
In 2010, Guerrero formed another supplement company, 6 Degree Nutrition, and began marketing Neurosafe as a “drink that protects your brain from the consequences of sports-related traumatic brain injury.’’ He claimed the beverage’s results were scientifically proven.
Brady endorsed Neurosafe as an “extra level of protection that gives me comfort when I’m on the field.’’ In a photo accompanying a Neurosafe ad, Brady held aloft a Super Bowl trophy, a powerful image for consumers seeking to avoid sports-related brain damage.
The FTC asserted Guerrero’s claims were bogus and sent Hinkins a letter in 2012 expressing serious concern that consumers might believe Neurosafe’s claims and “forego appropriate medical treatment and return to competition before they have adequately recovered from their injuries.’’
The FTC stated it chose not to sanction Guerrero because he sold an “extremely limited’’ amount of Neurosafe, stopped marketing it, and provided refunds to anyone who bought it.
During the same period, Guerrero became entangled in two lawsuits brought by Bioforce investors who accused him of fraud. One plaintiff who said he had invested more than $300,000 in Bioforce alleged Guerrero engaged in numerous fraudulent acts, including diverting company funds for personal expenses such as buying “a Porsche, an Audi, and extravagant trips.’’
The second lawsuit, filed in 2012 by five men who invested a combined $427,500 in Guerrero’s company, alleged he falsely claimed to have sold his previous business for $500 million and to have given each employee $1 million.
What’s more, the investors alleged, Guerrero falsely claimed that Brady, Tomlinson, McGinest, and Leslie had invested in Bioforce.
In a sworn deposition in 2011 for the first lawsuit, Guerrero described another intriguing aspect to his business portfolio. He said a company named River Flow, which was controlled by Brady’s supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, had granted Bioforce the exclusive rights to manufacture and distribute Bundchen’s “Sejaa’’ line of cosmetics.
Guerrero indicated in the deposition that the woman who owned River Flow — her name is redacted in the court papers — gave him 5 percent of her company. Asked why she would do that, Guerrero said, “We’re friends.’’
The Globe’s attempts to reach Bundchen were not successful.
Guerrero denied many of the other allegations in the lawsuits and the cases were settled, though the terms have not been disclosed. The investors turned down interview requests, and Hinkins declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement.
By the time the final Bioforce lawsuit was settled, Guerrero and his wife had left Utah and bought a home in Norfolk, a short drive from Patriot Place.
Brady, meanwhile, made Guerrero the TB12 center’s operating manager, which includes supervising licensed staffers. Business has been brisk, even though the center’s $200 hourly rate generally is not covered by medical insurance.
The Patriots lease the site to the center at market rate. In addition to Brady and Guerrero, the TB12 company’s annual report to the state cites Peter Bernon, a retired dairy executive and longtime friend of Kraft, as a partner.
Many TB12 clients have reported positive results, among them John Thorbahn, a health insurance consultant. Thorbahn, 56, said he sought help from Guerrero after reading the Sports Illustrated article.
A former Northeastern football player and marathoner, Thorbahn had been frustrated coming back from hip replacements. He has visited Guerrero regularly for nearly a year and reports that he has regained his ability to run, and experienced improved range of motion and increased energy levels.
“I have never felt better,’’ Thorbahn said. “Alex may not be for everybody, but he has been magic for me.’’
And for Brady.