Attorney of disgraced cyclist accuses BALCO investigators of setting 'trap'

Updated: November 10, 2007, 2:58 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- An attorney for disgraced former Olympic bicyclist Tammy Thomas told a judge Friday perjury charges against his client should be dismissed because her allegedly false testimony to a federal grand jury didn't affect the panel's wide-ranging probe of steroids in sports.

A federal grand jury last year charged Thomas with perjury for testifying she never took illegal steroids. Thomas was barred for life in 2002 after testing positive for norbolethone, an obscure and previously undetectable steroid.

Thomas' attorney, Ethan Balogh, said federal prosecutors had little use other than to "trap" Thomas for perjury by calling her before the same grand jury investigating drug use by superstars like home run king Barry Bonds and slugger Jason Giambi centered at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO.

"This wasn't a legitimate investigation into anything, they wanted to play 'gotcha,' " Balogh argued in a San Francisco federal court. "If we changed her no answers to yes, it doesn't matter. It was to embarrass, to shame and to beat up on a little person."

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston wondered if Thomas' testimony could be compared to a woman lying about her age or whether her allegedly false denials of steroid use were more substantive. The judge said she was inclined to keep the charges intact, but would formally rule later.

"This was a legitimate investigation at BALCO," said federal prosecutor Matthew Parella, who said that investigators retested a frozen urine sample of Thomas that showed norbolethone use.

"She lied on the very first question," Parella said. "Then when given the opportunity to change or clarify her testimony didn't do it."

Baseball free agent Bonds is being investigated in a similar perjury case. Bonds has denied ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs. In testimony before a grand jury in 2003, he said he believed a clear substance and a cream given to him by his trainer were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm.

The Bonds perjury probe began in July 2006 and the investigating grand jury last met on Thursday.

Last month, former track star Marion Jones admitted she had taken steroids after years of denials. Jones pleaded guilty to two counts of lying to federal investigators about her drug use and financial transactions.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press