Government appears more intent on nailing perjurers

Updated: November 3, 2006, 11:38 AM ET
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

Trevor Graham, the track coach who blew the whistle on the BALCO drug scandal, was slapped Thursday with a charge that landed domestic-arts mogul Martha Stewart in a prison camp -- making false statements to federal officers.

"We're extremely disappointed. Trevor Graham repeatedly assured Justin and the Gatlins that he, Trevor, was part of the solution and not the problem. Today's indictment certainly calls that into question. And if true, then Trevor Graham was far less than candid with Justin."
-- John Collins, attorney for Justin Gatlin

Only, whereas Stewart's fib dealt with lucrative insider trading, Graham is accused of lying about his contact and involvement with Angel Guillermo Heredia, a former athlete and nutritionist who reportedly testified to providing steroids, human growth hormone and the performance-enhancing drug EPO to Graham and many of his athletes.

The three-count indictment handed down by the second BALCO grand jury -- the same body weighing possible charges against San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds -- accuses Graham of making false statements as it relates to Heredia allegedly providing Graham and some of Graham's Sprint Capitol USA athletes with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

What has Graham in hot water are statements he made to two IRS-CI special agents during a June 8, 2004, sit-down in the Raleigh, N.C., office of his attorney, Joseph Zeszotarski. Before the session, Graham's attorney requested and received immunity from statements made during the interview, though the coverage didn't protect Graham against prosecution for making false statements.

The indictment also accuses Graham of making false statements when he told investigators he'd never met Heredia in person, as well as not having spoken with Heredia since 1997. The government alleges he had "numerous contacts" with Heredia between 1997 and the 2004 interview.

Heredia, a key witness, reportedly has appeared twice before the grand jury. In addition, Randall Evans, Graham's top assistant and a close friend of Heredia since their days at San Jacinto College in Texas, was called before the grand jury two weeks ago.

The Jamaican-born Graham has made a name for himself as one of the top sprint coaches in the world, having worked with Olympic champions and world-record holders such as Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin. At the same time, his training practices continue to come under scrutiny; at least six athletes from his team have received suspensions for drug use.

"They can't get the indictment that they really wanted, so they go back to 'What did you tell federal officers? And did you lie about it?' The problem is it is serious. It is serious because the law says it is a federal offense, and because it is punishable by a fairly harsh sentencing. So it is not to be taken lightly."
-- Michael Rains, attorney for Barry Bonds

Gatlin, the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters, tested positive for artificial testosterone in April. The sprinter has publicly distanced himself from Graham in recent months, perhaps in part with an eye on having his ban cut short in time to defend his title at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Gatlin's attorney, John Collins, only enhanced the chilliness in a statement he provided to ESPN.com, saying: "We're extremely disappointed. Trevor Graham repeatedly assured Justin and the Gatlins that he, Trevor, was part of the solution and not the problem. Today's indictment certainly calls that into question. And if true, then Trevor Graham was far less than candid with Justin. Justin would have never trained with Trevor had he known what was revealed in today's indictment."

Collins declined to comment when asked if Gatlin had cooperated in the investigation of his former coach.

While Gatlin deals with the uncertainty of his career, he's presumably free of the legal issues facing other athletes. His name hasn't been linked to possible perjury charges. That isn't, however, the case with headliners Bonds, Jones, New York Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield and perhaps a few others.

And they have to be sweating, as the federal case against drug cheaters has shifted and now appears more intent on nabbing potential liars and perjurers.

"They can't get the indictment that they really wanted, so they go back to, 'What did you tell federal officers? And did you lie about it?' " veteran criminal defense lawyer Michael Rains, who represents Bonds, said of the Graham indictment. "The problem is it is serious. It is serious because the law says it is a federal offense, and because it is punishable by a fairly harsh sentencing. So it is not to be taken lightly."

Taking it all in from a distance Thursday, Bonds' attorney didn't quite know what to make of the single indictment being handed down.

"This has to come out of the same grand jury that they're presenting Barry's stuff to," Rains said. "You can read a lot into it potentially, like this is going to be their last hurrah and Barry is going to be left alone in all this, finally. That is one of the things you can read into it, but you don't have to read that into it. This could simply be a prelude of something else to do and they could be picking off defendants piecemeal.

"Obviously when they did the initial round of indictments, there were four. I always thought that if they were going to indict Barry they would probably drag someone along into the fray. Maybe even someone other than [Bonds' former personal trainer] Greg Anderson, just to try to make it look like they're really not trying to pick on Barry, which is really what they are trying to do, in my opinion."

Rains referred to the book "Game of Shadows" and the leaked grand jury testimony when asked which of the remaining BALCO players, other than Bonds, he perceived at risk for indictment. "Depending on what you believe there, you might have ... hell, Gary Sheffield is a potential [target]."

For perjury?

"Perjury, sure," Rains said. "Didn't he say he took flaxseed oil, etc.? According to the book, his testimony in that regard was similar to that of Barry. What are they going to do, indict Barry for perjury and not Sheffield? I don't know. Sheffield could be one.

"Benito Santiago, as I recall, there was some reference to the fact that Santiago got caught in something on the stand and then sort of sheepishly admitted to someone else. How far do we want to go down that path, I don't know. But there are probably others that would be in that category of doing indictments if they were so inclined."

Based on what came down Thursday, you can't help wonder if it wasn't the start of something.

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.

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