Montgomery also in endorsement swap?

Updated: April 25, 2004, 2:21 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A nutritionist charged with distributing illegal drugs to pro athletes told federal agents he gave steroids to track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery in exchange for endorsements, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday night.

The story on the newspaper's Web site, quoting sources who requested anonymity, said Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder Victor Conte told the federal investigators that Jones and Montgomery received the performance-enhancing substances in exchange for endorsements of his nutritional supplement.

Jones' attorney, Joseph Burton, issued a statement saying the Chronicle's story was wrong.

"Victor Conte is either lying or the statement was involuntarily coerced. This is a character assassination of the worst kind," Burton said.

"Marion has never had an endorsement deal of any kind with Victor Conte or any of his businesses, and most specifically she has never received any illegal substances from Conte in exchange for her endorsement of his products."

A lawyer for Conte told the Chronicle that the lab owner denied ever providing information to federal agents about any specific athletes receiving steroids. Conte's attorneys, Robert Holley and Troy Ellerman, did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages from the AP.

Conte said in an e-mail message to AP that he couldn't comment. Jones' publicist, Lewis Kay, could not be reached for comment.

Jones and Montgomery, both of whom testified last fall before a federal grand jury that indicted Conte and three other men, repeatedly have denied steroid use. All four indicted men have pleaded not guilty.

Jones won an unprecedented five track medals -- three of them gold -- at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Her boyfriend, Montgomery, holds the world record of 9.78 seconds in the 100 meters.

A source who requested anonymity told the Chronicle that Conte's statements to federal investigators came after agents raided BALCO last September. Three other anonymous sources confirmed to the Chronicle the information about Jones receiving drugs from Conte.

Sources told the newspaper that federal agents were told that Jones and Montgomery received a then-undetectable steroid known as "the clear" and a testosterone-based steroid known as "the cream" in exchange for endorsing a zinc- and magnesium-based, legal nutritional product called ZMA.

Prosecutors have identified "the clear" as THG, which was unmasked last summer by anti-doping officials. Five track and field athletes and four NFL players have tested positive for THG. Jones and Montgomery were not among that group.

Federal officials have refused to make public the names of athletes who allegedly received performance-enhancing drugs through BALCO. The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has subpoenaed the Justice Department's BALCO documents.

Two sources told the Chronicle that those documents have been turned over to the committee.

The New York Times reported Saturday, quoting sources who requested anonymity, that a $7,350 check from Jones' bank account was written to Conte in 2000, just before the Sydney Olympics.

The Times quoted two people familiar with the check as saying it was signed by Jones' former husband, former shot putter C.J. Hunter, who failed four separate steroids tests before the Sydney Games.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press