All, including Bonds' trainer, free until hearing

Updated: February 14, 2004, 4:09 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Victor Conte, nutritional guru for Barry Bonds and founder of the lab at the center of a steroids probe, jumped into a waiting sports car and sped away from the courthouse after pleading not guilty.

But the pace of the case against Conte and three other men will be much slower. An attorney for Conte said it could be a half-year before a trial begins.

Fri, February 13
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig today issued the following response to Thursday's announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft of a 42-count indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in San Francisco against four persons charged with illegally distributing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes in football, baseball and track and field:

"The indictments resulting from the San Francisco grand jury's investigation into the production and distribution of illegal performance-enhancing drugs is a further powerful step which will assist our own efforts to achieve zero tolerance of performance enhancing drugs in our game.

"We have instituted a wide-ranging ban on performance-enhancing drugs and a strict testing regimen at the Minor League level. We have encouraged congressional inquiries into the dangers of ephedra and similar substances, and we completely support the recent action of the Food and Drug Administration in banning ephedra.

"We recognize the problem. We have negotiated the first-ever drug-testing program in Major League Baseball, a first step in the evolutionary process toward zero tolerance. Ultimately, action like yesterday's by grand jury members and prosecutors will also be necessary to choke off the sources and supplies of these poisons which can seduce our athletes and disillusion our fans."

Conte and the others pleaded not guilty Friday to distributing steroids to athletes and were ordered by federal Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James to post bond by Feb. 27 or face arrest.

One of Conte's attorneys, Robert Holley, said he expects it will be at least six months before the case comes to trial because attorneys must review tens of thousands of pages of documents. Holley said he was unsure whether athletes would be called to testify at a trial.

Also charged are James Valente, vice president of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative that Conte founded; Greg Anderson, the personal trainer for Bonds; Remi Korchemny, the world-class track coach whose sprinters won gold medals but then flunked drug tests.

All four defendants refused comment Friday as they left the courthouse following a short hearing and two hours of processing by federal officials.

But their attorneys said it was outrageous that no athletes have been charged.

Dozens of athletes, ranging from Bonds to Olympic track star Marion Jones to boxer Shane Mosley, appeared before a federal grand jury in November and December. Though offered limited immunity in exchange for their testimony, athletes still could face perjury charges if prosecutors believe they lied about drug use to the grand jury.

Troy Ellerman, who also represents Conte, ridiculed comments made by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced the 42-count indictment Thursday in Washington, that such prosecutions are needed to preserve the integrity of sports.

"How do you preserve any of that if you don't go after the athletes?" Ellerman asked outside the courthouse. "They haven't been indicted and they're making all the money, and they're at the top of the game."

Holley said Conte was not the source of steroids for athletes, and was not the cause of drug problems in sports.

"It's like going after a fly with a bazooka, and there's a lot of other flies around," Holley said. "Even if they take down Conte, it won't change the system."

Ashcroft's announcement of the indictments came three weeks after President Bush called in his State of the Union address for U.S. sports leagues to adopt tougher anti-doping policies and for athletes to set a better example for American youngsters.

Anderson's attorney, Bill Rapoport, said Bush's mention of steroids and Ashcroft's news conference show the case has become politicized and said it has tinges of "McCarthyism."

The four accused men sat together in the courtroom. During a break, Conte and Korchemny had an animated conversation while Valente and the barrel-chested Anderson sat silent and stone-faced.

All four must turn in their passports. Korchemny received permission to take a weekend trip to New York, and Anderson asked to be allowed to go to Arizona on Feb. 23-26, but refused to say whether he'll be going to baseball's spring training.

The judge set bail at $100,000 for Conte, Valente and Korchemny, and $25,000 for Anderson, then released them on their own recognizance until at least Feb. 27, when they will return to show they can post their bond.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press