Hearings on the search might be held later
SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge said Wednesday she would not immediately dismiss charges against four men accused of distributing steroids to top athletes, amid accusations that prosecutors illegally searched a nutritional supplement laboratory and Barry Bonds' trainer's house and car.
At the outset of an 80-minute hearing, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled "my preliminary view is to deny everything." She said a written ruling would come soon, and set a preliminary trial date in March.
But before trial, Illston said she may conduct evidentiary hearings in January into whether federal agents illegally searched Victor Conte's Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in Burlingame, and wrongfully obtained statements from him and its vice president, James Valente.
The outcome of those hearings could determine whether some or all of the charges would be dismissed, as attorneys for the four defendants demanded Wednesday.
Conte, Valente, Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson, and track coach Remi Korchemny face federal indictment on a range of accusations, including distributing steroids, possession of human growth hormone, money laundering and misbranding drugs with intent to defraud. All have pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for Conte, Valente and Anderson said searches last year at BALCO and at Anderson's Burlingame house were illegal because officers did not supply search warrants to the men. Federal agents stated in court records that they seized calendars and other documents detailing the use of steroids by professional baseball players during the search of Anderson's home.
"Included among these files with apparent steroid distribution details was a folder for Barry Bonds," Internal Revenue Service agent Jeff Novitzky wrote in court documents. Bonds denies using steroids.
In court papers last month, Novitzky wrote that during the September 2003 raid on BALCO, "Conte openly acknowledged giving testosterone-base cream, itself a steroid, to numerous professional athletes and specifically identified the names of the specific athletes to whom he had given drugs."
These and other athletes testified before a federal grand jury here, which eventually led to the indictment of the four men.
Robert Holley and Troy Ellerman, attorneys for Valente and Conte, also said the statements their clients allegedly made to the government should not be allowed as evidence. The attorneys said their two clients believed they were not free to leave the premises during the search by armed agents, meaning any statements they made there cannot be used in court because their rights were not read to them.
"The government has treated this case frivolously," Holley told the judge. He said if a person doesn't believe he is free to leave police during questioning, that person is under arrest and must be given Miranda rights.
Prosecutor Jeff Nedrow said the fact that agents waited until the end of an eight-hour search to review the warrant with Conte and Valente was simply a "technical violation." And, he said, Anderson was shown the search warrant during the raid of his property, an assertion Anderson's attorneys dispute.
"Is it a violation that requires suppression?" Nedrow asked Illston. "Absolutely not."
Attorneys for all four also urged Illston to dismiss the entire case because of what Anderson attorney Tony Serra called "outrageous governmental behavior."
Serra alleged the government had leaked damaging evidence, or "poison ink," to the San Francisco Chronicle, preventing the four from getting a fair trial by an unbiased jury.
Among the most damaging leaks was a secret recording the Chronicle described in an October published report. A voice the Chronicle claimed to be Anderson's was heard saying he provided steroids to Bonds.
Nedrow denied the government was responsible for the leaks, reminding the judge that Conte is making his own case to the media by appearing Friday on ABC's 20/20 to discuss it.
Outside the courtroom, Conte read a statement about his upcoming ABC interview and took no questions.
"The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will be told by Victor Conte," he said.
The case is United States v. Conte, 04-0044.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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