Those who testified might not be off hook

Updated: February 17, 2004, 11:32 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- No athlete has been charged. None was named in documents released last week when federal prosecutors charged four men with participating in a steroid-distribution ring that allegedly supplied dozens of sports stars.

But athletes, identified in those documents by such labels as a "current NFL player" or an "Olympic gold medal track and field athlete," are at the heart of the case against the four men -- all of whom pleaded innocent last week.

Dozens of athletes from five sports, including the NFL and major league baseball, testified last fall before the panel that issued the indictments. Some of those athletes could be called to testify at a trial.

And though they so far have neither been charged nor identified, some of those sports stars could face sanctions from their sport -- or perjury charges from the federal government.

They were offered limited immunity in exchange for testimony, but could be charged with perjury if prosecutors believe they lied about their drug use.

And even those who told the truth could be in trouble. Olympic athletes who admitted to grand jurors that they took steroids and other banned drugs would not be prosecuted in court, but they could be suspended from competition -- even if they never failed a drug test.

Section 9 of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's protocol gives that agency the authority to bring a drug case against an athlete in lieu of a positive drug test "when USADA has other reason to believe that a potential doping violation has occurred, such as admitted doping."

In such cases, the protocol document says the USADA would initiate the case and send it to a three-member USADA review board for consideration.

The USADA covers anti-doping issues for U.S. Olympic athletes, including those in sports such as track and field. NFL and baseball players would not face USADA sanctions, except in the case of baseball players who also participate in international tournaments. But such sanctions would not extend to major league games.

Prosecutors planned to discuss more details of their case at a news conference Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco.

On Monday, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that shot putter Kevin Toth tested positive for the steroid THG and the stimulant modafinil at the U.S. championships last June at Stanford, where he won his first national title. He could be suspended for two years.

Toth, who testified before the grand jury, is the most recent of nine U.S. track and field athletes who flunked tests for THG or modafinil in those national championships last summer.

Terry Madden, the USADA's chief executive officer, said last week's indictments could lead to sanctions against other athletes.

"We fully expect that developments in the U.S. attorney's proceedings and our ongoing investigation will lead to the initiation of more doping cases against athletes and others," he said last Thursday after the indictments were announced.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said last Thursday in announcing the indictments that steroids were supplied to dozens of athletes in the NFL, baseball and track and field, and that "we have not limited prosecution in this setting to those who are being prosecuted today."

Troy Ellerman, an attorney for two of the indicted men, said it was ludicrous that no athlete was indicted.

"When Ashcroft comes out and makes the statement that we want to preserve the integrity of sports and the athletes, well then, why didn't they indict the athletes?" Ellerman asked. "The athlete is the one that sends the message to the little kid on the street, who looks at it and just sees the athlete got a free pass."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press