Conte seeks plea deal

Updated: June 16, 2004, 3:21 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- The founder of a Bay Area lab at the center of a steroid scandal is seeking President Bush's help in negotiating a plea that would keep him out of prison and could implicate potential U.S. Olympians.

Victor Conte's attorney, Robert Holley, sent the letter Monday to Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft and three federal prosecutors. The contents of the letter were first reported by the San Jose Mercury News and later confirmed by Holley to The Associated Press.

"Mr. Conte is willing to reveal everything he knows about officials, coaches and athletes in order to help to clean up the Olympics," the letter says. "He will answer all questions from the United States Department of Justice, the United States Olympic Committee, and the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Further, he will put together a team of experts and truthful witnesses who will aid in this massive job of restoring faith in American athletes and respect for our system of fair competition."

Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, and his attorneys met with federal authorities earlier this month but were unable to reach a plea deal.

The meeting came as USADA continues to examine tens of thousands of pages of documents from the federal case against Conte and three other men. Those documents include purported drug-use calendars for athletes, as well as statements Conte made to federal agents during a September raid. All four men have pleaded not guilty.

Those documents, obtained by a Senate committee from the Justice Department and then turned over to USADA, already have led sprinter Kelli White to acknowledge drug use and accept a two-year ban.

USADA has also sent letters to Tim Montgomery, Alvin Harrison, Chryste Gaines and Michelle Collins saying it is formally investigating the sprinters. USADA is also seeking information from Marion Jones, who won five medals in the 2000 Olympics.

"He has information that would be of great value to USADA and the Olympic committee," Holley said in a telephone interview. "I will not talk about any specific information he would give."

USADA has the authority under its charter to seek punishment against athletes even without a positive drug test. Doping cases could be built on documentation or statements by people such as Conte.

But without a plea agreement, Conte likely would not be willing to corroborate or explain the documents or his statements. Bush condemned steroids during the State of the Union and Holley hopes the president will intervene in this case.

"The best we can do is give it to them," he said. "What they do after that is up to them."

Conte is asking to avoid pleading guilty to money laundering -- the most serious charge he faces -- and to be sentenced only to probation, along with BALCO vice president James Valente.

Track coach Remi Korchemny and Barry Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, also were indicted. Conte's letter does not address Bonds or any other baseball player linked to BALCO.

Conte's assistance is also being sought by Jones. Her legal team sent Conte's lawyers a letter asking whether Conte would voluntarily appear or require a subpoena to testify because he has relevant information, a lawyer for Jones said on condition of anonymity.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press