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Those who testified might not be off hook

2/17/2004

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."