Conte, Anderson to begin BALCO prison sentences

Updated: December 1, 2005, 8:24 PM ET news services

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hours before he reported to federal prison for his leading role in a global sports steroid scandal, BALCO head Victor Conte promised on Thursday to redirect his life to fighting doping use by athletes.

ABC News' Martin Bashir talked to Victor Conte just days before he entered jail. The complete story will air on Nightline on Thursday (ABC, 11:35 p.m. ET). Among the highlights:

On baseball's new drug testing policy
Bashir: What do you think of this new proposal, this new test that baseball has proudly proclaimed as being the answer to drug use?
Conte: I don't think it's going to be much more effective than the previous policy that they had in place. I think that the focus should be more upon out of competition random testing during the off season, um, and mandating more of those types of tests as opposed to announcing that there will be a test during training camp, and then testing them a single time throughout the season. My opinion is that announced testing is not really to be considered drug testing, should be considered I.Q. testing instead.

Bashir: Because?
Conte: Because all you have to do is taper for a given amount of time and you know you're going to test negative. So, if they tell you when they're going to test, just like in competition tests in any sport, um, everybody can have some expert advise them regarding what the, the clearance time of a given performance enhancing drug is, and just taper off that much ahead of time, and you'll, you'll test negative.

On Barry Bonds and other athletes offering to pay Conte to take the fall
Bashir: Has Barry Bonds paid you?
Conte: No, absolutely not. Barry Bonds is a very fine individual, he's a real gentlemen, regardless of what much of the sports media has said about Barry Bonds. I judge Barry Bonds upon my own few experiences that I've had interacting with him. And he's not only a, a great athlete, but he's a very fine gentlemen as well.

Bashir: Have any of the athletes or sportsmen paid you to take the rap for them?
Conte: No, the answer is no.

Bashir: So why won't you give their names up? Why won't you give the evidence?
Conte: Because I believe that, uh, in most cases the athletes are good people who came from good families, and that they've already suffered greatly, and uh, they don't need, need me or anyone else continuing to, uh, say bad things about them. I think it's time to, uh, to move on.

A U.S. federal judge in October sentenced Conte, the owner of the San Francisco Bay-area sports nutrition lab, to four months in prison and four months home detention for steroid distribution, starting on Dec. 1.

The high-profile case unveiled links between BALCO and top athletes such as baseball slugger Barry Bonds and track and field star Marion Jones, and prompted sports authorities to beef up anti-doping rules.

"I feel that this is what had to happen," Conte told Reuters in a rare interview as he prepared to leave for the privately run Taft Correctional Institution. "It has enabled me to make a contribution in fighting steroids in sport."

"I've done my best from the very beginning to be accountable and this is the punishment that I have been given by the court," he said. "I accept that punishment. I'd like to serve my time and then move on and do what I can to live a positive remainder of my life."

A former bass guitarist, Conte, 55, is a self-taught nutritionist whose gregarious personality and salesmanship gained him entry to top names in sport, many of whom later came to regret the negative publicity the association brought.

"I never did snitch or roll or inform on anyone," Conte said. "And from the very beginning I was a guy of full disclosure. I told all of the athletes I work with to the best of my ability what the risks and returns were of their association with me and the way we approached performance enhancement."

The shadow of the steroid scandal lingers most ominously around Bonds, baseball's single-season home run record holder who is closing on the lifetime record held by Hank Aaron.

Bonds, 41, has said he never knowingly took steroids, but could have unknowingly used BALCO substances out of trust in his boyhood friend and trainer Greg Anderson, who was also set to report to prison on Thursday.

"There has been a lot of negative stuff written about Barry in the newspapers and on television," Conte said. "The few times I've interacted with him, he's been a very fine gentleman. I respect Barry a lot. I think that Barry is not only a great athlete but I think that Barry is a great person."

"I never talked to him about steroids; I've never given him steroids."

Although Conte often joked around with colleagues during court appearances, he appeared particularly somber on Thursday. His voice cracked and he said he had suffered from the flu in recent days.

Conte said he planned to do some writing in prison as part of his efforts to fight sports doping.

"Once I get out [I'd like] to create a greater awareness and acknowledgment of the problem and ultimately I hope to create some change so that others can learn from my mistakes," Conte said.

He suggested that sports authorities step up off-season drug testing. He did not think prosecuting athletes was a good idea, but said he was still considering how sports should respond internally to steroid violations.

"In most cases the athletes involved in the BALCO scandal are good people who came from good families," Conte said. "I would just not like to see any further harm come to anyone."

In the past, Conte's legal arguments suggested federal authorities had unfairly tarred his reputation with overzealous prosecution, but he would not go that far on Thursday.

"They have spent millions and millions of dollars on this case investigating and prosecuting myself," he said. "I guess whether it was worth it or not is a question federal taxpayers will have to answer."

BALCO vice president James Valente was sentenced to three years of probation, and track coach Remi Korchemny is expected to receive probation at his February sentencing.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.