BALCO leaker Ellerman gets 2½ years in prison
SAN FRANCISCO -- An attorney who admitted leaking the confidential grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds and other athletes to a reporter was sentenced Thursday to two and a half years in prison, by far the harshest penalty to result from the government's sprawling probe of steroids in sports.
Troy Ellerman, 44, pleaded guilty in February to allowing a San Francisco Chronicle reporter to view transcripts of testimony by Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and other athletes embroiled in the steroids investigation. Giambi admitted taking steroids while Sheffield and Bonds testified if they did take performance enhancing drugs, they did so unwittingly.
After the newspaper published the players' embarrassing accounts after they had been promised confidentiality, the judge overseeing the case recommended that the Department of Justice launch a leak investigation.
Ellerman initially blamed federal investigators for leaking the testimony and argued that the case against his client be tossed out because of government misconduct. He also lied to a judge about not knowing the source of the leaks.
"This affected, and infected every aspect of the judicial system," U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White said.
White also rejected Ellerman's argument that he should get a lighter sentence because President Bush commuted former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's 2½-year prison sentence for perjury to probation. White said to do so would open the door to doling out unduly lenient sentences for other white collar criminals.
"If Mr. Ellerman is dissatisfied with his sentence, he should seek a commutation from the president," White said.
White also asked prosecutors about a letter Bonds' attorney Michael Rains filed in the case arguing that the slugger was a victim of Ellerman's actions and that Ellerman was not the only leak in the high-profile case.
Rains says he has evidence that sources other than Ellerman -- but still unknown to him -- had leaked confidential grand jury evidence to the Chronicle and other publications.
"Since Mr. Bonds has yet to be indicted, I have not been in position to introduce evidence concerning the leaked grand jury materials related to this case," Rains said in his letter to the judge. "In the event that Mr. Bonds is indicted, I would certainly welcome such an opportunity."
But on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Raphael told the judge that the government's leak investigation concluded with Ellerman's conviction. Raphael conceded that there had been other "little leaks" in the case, but that investigators were focused on finding the culprit of the grand jury breach.
"We do not believe that there is any other source," Raphael said. "We have no specific evidence that someone else leaked grand jury transcripts."
Ellerman was a successful Sacramento attorney when Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, known as BALCO, hired him following a 2003 raid of the Burlingame nutritional supplements lab by federal agents.
He also later served as the attorney for BALCO vice president James Valente, and it was while he was representing Valente that he allowed reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada to view the players' grand jury testimony.
The leaked testimony was featured prominently in Fainaru-Wada's book co-written with Lance Williams called "Game of Shadows," which recounts the alleged steroid use of Bonds, who is five home runs away from breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record.
A friend and former private investigator in Ellerman's law firm turned him in to authorities after they had a falling out.
Ellerman said the pressures of the high-profile case coupled with alcohol and cocaine abuse were major factors in letting the reporter view the transcripts.
"I did not do this seeking publicity," he told the judge. He said trying to cover his tracks "took on a life of its own."
He pleaded guilty to four felony counts of obstruction of justice and related charges, and federal prosecutors dropped their case against the two reporters. They had faced up to 18 months in prison for refusing to divulge the source of the leak.
Judge White also ordered Ellerman to give 10 talks on conduct to law students. The judge didn't fine Ellerman.
Ellerman was fired as commissioner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and voluntarily gave up his license to practice law in California.
Ellerman's two clients in the original case, BALCO founder Conte and former BALCO executive Valente, pleaded guilty to steroids-related charges in an earlier phase of the investigation. Chemist Patrick Arnold, Bonds' personal trainer Greg Anderson and track coach Remi Korchemny have also pleaded guilty to related charges.
Korchemny and Valente were sentenced to probation, and the others were each sentenced to jail terms no longer than four months. Anderson remains in prison, where he returned after refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating possible perjury and tax evasion charges against Bonds.
The case is United States v. Ellerman, 07-0080.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press