Saturday, December 16, 2006
The Balco (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative) steroids investigation has entered what U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan called the "third stage" with the indictment of Tammy Thomas, a former cyclist banned from competition for steroid use. Thomas testified under a grant of immunity in 2003 before the same grand jury that heard from a number of prominent athletes, including famed San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones. According to the indictment (here), Thomas committed perjury by denying she received the designer steroid THG, known as the "the clear," from Balco chemist Patrick Arnold, who entered a guilty plea earlier in 2006 to conspiracy and money laundering charges. The indictment quotes the relevant testimony for count one:
Q: Did you ever – besides this one instance of getting the 1-AD from Mr. Arnold, did you ever get any other services from Mr. Arnold or products?
(a) A: No, no other products.
* * * * *
Q: Did you ever, in addition to anything I’ve said, get any kind of what you knew to be banned or illegal performance-enhancing drugs from Mr. Arnold?
(b) A: No.
In another exchange quoted in the indictment, she denied ever taking steroids or taking anything that Arnold gave her. Thomas tested positive for steroids in 2002,leading to her ban from competition. The key witness appears to be Arnold, which means that the case could come down to a credibility battle between Thomas and an admitted felon.
U.S. Attorney Ryan hinted in a press release (here) that more perjury indictments may be coming. He said, "“In the early stages of the investigation, the individuals who distributed steroids to some of the nation’s top-flight athletes were indicted and convicted. In the second stage, we developed the evidence to indict and convict the creator of the undetectable steroid THG distributed through Balco. A third stage has begun as we bring charges against individuals who lied to investigators or committed perjury while testifying under oath to a federal grand jury. Our investigation into each of these stages will continue as the evidence develops." In addition to Thomas, the grand jury earlier indicted Trevor Graham, Jones' former coach.
Bonds has already been the subject of serious speculation about a possible perjury and tax evasion indictment, the latter based on unreported income from memorabilia sales. When the earlier Balco grand jury expired in July 2006, many thought its last act would be to indict Bonds, but right before its expiration, the Giants released his medical records, so White's office announced that nothing would be done at that time. Bonds' former personal trainer, Greg Anderson, remains in jail on a civil contempt because of his refusal to testify about Bonds' use of steroids; Anderson was affiliated with Balco and entered a guilty plea to a drug charge related to steroid distribution. A San Jose Mercury News article (here) quotes Bonds' attorney stating, "If this is phase three, why not indict Barry?' The simple answer -- they need the testimony of Greg Anderson.''
It's not clear how important Anderson is to the case, but he could certainly help the government by identifying Balco documents that apparently indicate a schedule of steroid use by Bonds. If the perjury case rides on Anderson, the government will not be in a very strong position unless it has powerful documentary evidence to support its position. Anderson is unlikely to be a very convincing witness, or perhaps not a very trustworthy one.
In addition to Anderson, two San Francisco Chronicle reporters are fighting a contempt citation in the Ninth Circuit for refusing to testify before the grand jury about the leak of transcripts of Bonds and other major league players. The perjury stage of the investigation has generated a significant amount of litigation already, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has not been shy about pursuing perjury and contempt cases, so look for more to come. Whether higher-profile athletes like Bonds, Jones, or perhaps others are charged could play out over the next few months. (ph)