Korchemny pleads guilty to reduced charges

Updated: July 29, 2005, 4:57 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- Remi Korchemny, the track coach ensnared in the BALCO steroid scandal, pleaded guilty Friday to reduced charges, a move that will likely keep him out of prison.

The expected plea, the fourth and final in the case, ends a drug prosecution that prompted tighter testing rules in professional sports.

Two weeks ago, the other three defendants pleaded guilty: Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder Victor Conte, vice president James Valente and Greg Anderson, who is Barry Bonds' trainer.

They are scheduled to be sentenced in October. Conte faces eight months confinement; Anderson six months and Valente and Korchemny are looking at probation. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston has not said whether she would approve of any of the four plea agreements.

Korchemny, 73, of Castro Valley, was the coach of sprinters Kelli White and Dwain Chambers, both of whom are serving drug suspensions.

On July 15, Korchemny agreed to plead guilty with prosecutors, but got cold feet as all four BALCO defendants waited for more than an hour in the gallery before their cases were called.

On Friday, he pleaded to one misdemeanor count of doling out the sleep-disorder drug modafinil, which athletes sometimes illegally use to enhance performance, and prosecutors dropped dozens of other charges. The charge carried a maximum one-year sentence.

The modafinil, and other illegal drugs he was accused of giving his clients, was obtained from Conte, according to prosecutors.

"Did you know that these were illegal performance enhancing drugs," Judge Illston asked Korchemny. "Yes I do," he answered.

His attorney, Alan Dressler, said afterward that "it's a fair agreement." Prosecutors declined comment, but said they entered into plea agreements with the other three defendants because of weak criminal penalties for distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

The BALCO case, which began two years ago when authorities learned about a new, undetected designer steroid, opened the public's eyes to performance-enhancing drugs in sports while forcing professional leagues to clamp down on illicit drugs.

Earlier this year, Major League Baseball toughened its drug-testing policy, mandating suspensions for initial violations. NFL, NBA, NHL and track and field also changed their rules.

While the case catapulted steroid use into a front-burner issue from Capitol Hill to baseball clubhouses and from schools to living rooms, the plea agreements prevented several key athletes suspected of steroid use from having to testify in open court.

Some of the biggest names in sports -- including baseball stars Bonds and Jason Giambi -- have been under a cloud of suspicion based on BALCO grand jury transcripts that were leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as public accusations against Olympic star Marion Jones by Conte and others.

None of the athletes connected to the case publicly has admitted steroid use, and pleas by the four defendants mean they won't have to repeat their secret grand jury testimony in a public courtroom.

Conte, Anderson, Valente and Korchemny were charged last year with dozens of counts in connection to federal raids at Burlingame-based BALCO in 2003 and at Anderson's house in Burlingame.

Federal agents stated in court records they seized calendars and other documents detailing the use of steroids by professional baseball players during the search of Anderson's home. A federal agent wrote in court papers that, during the raid at BALCO headquarters, "Conte openly acknowledged giving testosterone-based cream, itself a steroid, to numerous professional athletes."

The case is United States v. Korchemny, 04-0044.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press