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02/24/09 1:00 AM EST

Nats' Bowden maintains innocence

Team president Kasten offers full support of GM amidst investigation

VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said Monday he was innocent of any wrongdoing, one day after SI.com reported that a federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses for Latin American prospects is examining the role Bowden may have played.

SI reported that former Latin American scout Jorge Oquendo links the FBI's investigations of Bowden and his special assistant, Jose Rijo, to that of former White Sox senior director of player personnel David Wilder, who was dismissed for allegedly pocketing money earmarked for player signing bonuses. Oquendo worked for Wilder and Bowden.

SI.com said the investigators are looking as far back as 1994. Bowden was the general manager of the Reds from 1992 to 2003.

"I'm innocent of any wrongdoing," said Bowden, who is answering only baseball questions at the direction of team president Stan Kasten. "Besides that, I don't have any comment."

News of the investigation of Bowden and Rijo was first reported last summer by ESPN.com. At the time, Bowden said neither he nor Rijo did anything wrong and acknowledged he spoke to the FBI in person. Bowden declined to say when the meeting took place.

Bowden said the investigators did not ask him if either he or Rijo were involved in anything illegal, and he expects every club in baseball to be talking to the investigators.

"Oh, no, there is no wrongdoing," Bowden said back in July. "I met with the FBI investigators, and I think there are many people throughout baseball that are going to be talking to the FBI and Major League Baseball, trying to get all the information out there for the problems that exist over there."

In a story posted Monday night, The Washington Post quotes sources as saying the Lerner Group, which owns the team, is prepared to part ways with Bowden and may see the investigation as a matter that triggers his exit. Neither Bowden nor Kasten were immediately reachable for comment on Monday night. One member of the organization said last September if Bowden were guilty of any wrongdoing, the team would expect him to step down.

If Bowden's role becomes open, it is presumable the post could be overseen internally by Mike Rizzo, currently the assistant general manager. Rizzo has been in that role since July 2006 and is largely credited with rebuilding the farm system through the First-Year Player Draft. In his two-plus years, the Nationals have selected players such as right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and outfielder Destin Hood.

Earlier Monday, Kasten reminded reporters that this latest investigation is totally different from controversy involving Carlos Alvarez David Lugo, who previously called himself Esmailyn Gonzalez. Lugo falsified his name and age. His real name is Lugo, according to Kasten and agent Stanley King, not Gonzalez as previously had been reported.

Rijo took a leave of absence because of the Lugo controversy on Saturday. Rijo said he did not want to be a distraction to the team and wanted to be with his ailing mother in the Dominican Republic.

Lugo, who was discovered four years ago by Rijo, played at Rijo's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic for a year before Lugo's advisor, Basilio Vizcaino, took him out of the program and put him in his own baseball academy.

Soon thereafter, the Twins, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers sought Gonzalez's services. Rijo thought the Nationals had no chance of signing the player because of their limited budget. But when the team was sold to the Lerner Group in May 2006, it gave the organization a chance to sign Lugo.

"[This recent news about Bowden] is a different thing than the whole Esmailyn Gonzalez stuff," Kasten said. "Esmailyn Gonzalez is a piece of a discrete thing that involves just us. This [other case] is obviously something much wider ranging. This has covered a number of teams. Several teams have let people go. Some other teams have learned they didn't need to let people go. It's a wide-ranging investigation. There is nothing more I can say about that.

"I'm dying to tell you as much as I can. I can't yet. But as I said last week, I'm working as hard as I can on many different fronts behind the scenes to bring everything to a head as quickly as I can."

Asked how much he supports Bowden, Kasten said, "I support everyone who works for the Washington Nationals all the time. Period. But we are not going talk about things that are going on away from [the field] that I have no control or involvement in. I told you I'm going to let the process play out. We are going to let the chips fall as they may. We are going to look at things honestly."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.