Probing how paper got testimony

Updated: June 28, 2004, 1:19 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge on Friday ordered federal prosecutors to investigate whether the government leaked grand jury transcripts in which sprinter Tim Montgomery testified he used performance-enhancing drugs.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, presiding over the case of four men accused of distributing steroids, demanded that the men's defense attorneys and their clients also sign sworn declarations that they did not illegally release the transcripts to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published some of Montgomery's testimony Thursday.

"I'm curious to know how that got there," Illston said during a fiery hearing in which prosecutors and defense lawyers pointed fingers at one another.

Prosecutor Jeff Nedrow said he did not believe the government divulged Montgomery's testimony. Before about a dozen defense attorneys, Nedrow told Illston that "the universe of people who have gotten the transcripts are standing before you."

An outraged Tony Serra, who is defending Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' trainer and one of the four indicted by a grand jury, said he was "absolutely sure" defense attorneys did not breach Illston's protective order.

"The motive or the prejudice lies with the prosecution," he added.

The Chronicle did not report where it obtained what it published.

Montgomery, the world's fastest man, testified he used human growth hormone and a then-undetectable steroid, and that the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative's founder, Victor Conte, told him he gave Bonds, the San Francisco Giant's slugger, performance-enhancers, according to the Chronicle. The newspaper's report included direct quotes from Montgomery's testimony.

Conte is among the four charged with illegally distributing steroids. The others indicted are BALCO vice president James Valente and track coach Remi Korchemny. All four men have pleaded not guilty.

Outside court after Friday's hearing, Conte sought to set the record straight on his interactions with Bonds.

"Let the world know that I have never given anabolic steroids or any other performance enhancing drug to Barry Bonds," Conte told reports.

Bonds, Montgomery and other athletes testified last fall before the grand jury that ultimately indicted the four men.

It is illegal to give grand jury testimony to the media, and Illston could sanction those responsible for disclosing the testimony, which was released to the government and the four men's defense attorneys under an order that it not be revealed.

Montgomery was one of several sprinters who received a letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency warning they face punishment for alleged steroid use. The maximum punishment could be lifetime bans from the sport.

Bonds has publicly denied using any performance-enhancing drugs. Montgomery's attorney, Cristina Arguedas, declined to respond to what she described as "blind allegations."

Illston ordered the government and defense attorneys to return to court July 16. No trial date has been set for the four men.

The case is United States v. Conte, 04-0044.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press