Four charged in illegal drug scheme
WASHINGTON -- Barry Bonds' personal trainer, a track coach and top executives of a San Francisco-area nutritional supplements lab were charged Thursday with running an illegal drug distribution operation.
The 42-count federal indictment returned by a grand jury in San Francisco and obtained by The Associated Press alleges the scheme provided anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, EPO and other drugs to major league baseball and NFL players, as well as track and field stars.
None of the athletes was charged and none was named in the court documents.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment at a news conference with Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson and California law enforcement officials.
"Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them, but also the integrity of the sports that those athletes play," Ashcroft said. "Steroids are bad for sports, they're bad for players, they're bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models."
The indictment names as defendants Victor Conte Jr., the president and chief executive officer of the Bay Area Lab Cooperative, or BALCO, and its vice president, James J. Valente. Also indicted were Bonds' personal trainer, Greg F. Anderson, and Remi Korchemny, coach of world champion sprinter Kelli White of the United States and European sprint champion Dwain Chambers of Britain. White and Chambers have flunked drug tests, as have other athletes coached by Korchemny.
The charges include conspiracy to distribute steroids, possession of human growth hormone, misbranding drugs with intent to defraud and money laundering.
"I am saddened by the news of the indictment against my trainer and friend," Bonds said Thursday in a statement. "I don't know the state of the evidence, and it would be inappropriate to comment on this matter."
An affidavit from an IRS agent who investigated the case cites e-mails from Conte to unidentified athletes indicating that the scheme was aimed at fooling drug-testing programs used by pro sports leagues, the Olympics and other competitions.
According to the indictment, the four were involved in the scheme between December 2001 and Sept. 3, 2003, in which steroids were distributed to athletes on six different occasions.
One steroid, called "The Cream," included a substance that masked an athlete's use of the drug during testing. Another, called "The Clear," was sold to the athletes as a substance that would provide steroidlike effects without causing a positive drug test.
The defendants allegedly hid their activities by using false names on mailing labels and by referring to the drugs using a coded shorthand. In addition, authorities say the men provided the athletes with cover stories.
The defendants each face long prison terms and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if convicted on all counts. Conte's attorney, Troy Ellerman, said the charges came as no surprise.
"We've expected it. It's no secret they were going to indict him," Ellerman said.
A parade of top athletes, ranging from Bonds to Olympic track star Marion Jones to boxer Shane Mosley, appeared before the grand jury probing BALCO and Anderson from late October to mid-December.
Five track and field athletes face two-year suspensions for use of one substance, tetrahydragestrinone, or THG. Four Oakland Raiders football players also flunked tests for the steroid, which was unmasked by anti-doping officials last summer.
The steroid was discovered only after an unidentified track coach gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a syringe containing a substance that ultimately was identified as THG. Conte has denied being the source of the steroid.
BALCO contends it takes blood and urine samples from athletes and then prescribes a regimen of supplements to compensate for vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Bonds and other top athletes, such as Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski, have been boosters of Conte and BALCO. Bonds has been a client since before the 2001 season, when he hit a record 73 home runs.
Bonds, 39, has been working for years with Anderson, a boyhood friend.
"I visit BALCO every three to six months. They check my blood to make sure my levels are where they should be. Maybe I need to eat more broccoli than I normally do. Maybe my zinc and magnesium intakes need to increase," Bonds said in last June's issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine.
"Victor will call me to make sure I'm taking my supplements, and my trainer Greg will sit near my locker and stare at me if I don't begin working out right away. I have these guys pushing me."
Conte is no stranger to the spotlight.
When four separate tests before the 2000 Sydney Olympics showed U.S. shot putter C.J. Hunter had 1,000 times the allowable amount of the steroid nandrolone in his system, Conte took the blame, claiming the positive tests were the result of contaminated iron supplements he had supplied to Hunter, Jones' former husband.
Track and field's governing body Friday welcomed the indictments as a step in cutting off drug supply networks and punishing those who help athletes cheat.
"Although we have rules that allow us to sanction support personnel, we can't send them to jail," said Nick Davies, spokesman of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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