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April 11, 2004

Will Steroid Suspects Start Singing?

FROM DUMPSTER EVIDENCE AND A MYSTERIOUS SUCCESSION OF ANONYMOUS INFORMERS have come accusations, allegations and denials leading to the indictment of four men on charges of steroid distribution and money laundering.

In February, indictments were handed down against Greg Anderson (personal trainer of Barry Bonds); Victor Conte Jr., founder of the Balco lab in South San Francisco, James Valente, Balco VP, and Remi Korchemny, a track coach. Let’s refer to them as "The Balco Four."

There are many more unknowns than knowns in this unfolding saga. Hopefully, state and federal authorities know a lot more than we do, in order to prosecute the case accordingly.

What we do know is the following:

In September 2003, the I.R.S. and the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force raided Balco and searched Anderson's home. The I.R.S. confiscated computers from the residence and found $60,000 in cash in a locked safe and detailed records.

In June 2003 a high-profile track and field coach (not yet identified) sent a used syringe containing an undetectable steroid to authorities. Dr. Donald Catlin of the UCLA Olympic lab later identified the substance as THG. Investigators said the coach identified the source of the substance as the Balco lab.

In August 2002 an I.R.S. special agent, Jeff Novitzky, initiated an investigation into alleged steroid distribution and money laundering by the high profile Balco lab. Novitzky’s MO was weekly dumpster dives, in which he picked through Balco’s trash. He also monitored e-mails to and from Victor Conte.

And where is the investigation now?

• Authorities are struggling for access to urine samples of MLB players suspected of using THG (Balco’s house special, THG is a steroid allegedly created to be undetectable by existing urine tests). Not surprisingly, the players’ union is fighting access to the urine samples.

• The “Balco Four,” despite highly skilled legal counsel, are squirming as the noose appears to be tightening. Even President Bush railed against steroids in his State of the Union address. The media glare has been largely negative. Plus a backlash by fans against performance enhancing drugs is a distinct possibility.

• There are a dozen MLB players—not the least of whom is Barry Bonds—who are also squirming.

And where might the investigation go?

• Not unlike recent Mafia prosecutions, there could occur a flurry of dealmaking, in which one miscreant betrays another to save his own skin. Michael Rains, a lawyer for Barry Bonds, has said that individuals in the Balco case “are ratting each other off.”

• The public’s lust for punishment of famous and / or perceived greedy notables—Martha Stewart, Tyco, Enron, and so on—could take hold in the Balco / MLB case. If that happens, even the best legal team would have their hands full.

Stay tuned.

(this 459 word excerpt was extracted from a 2578 word article in the New York Times of 4-11-04)