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Jones says '20/20' interview defamatory

12/17/2004

SAN FRANCISCO -- Olympic track star Marion Jones filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday against BALCO head Victor Conte, who told a national TV audience that he gave her steroids and watched her inject herself with them.

Jones is seeking $25 million in the suit, alleging Conte
tarnished her reputation when he made the statement Dec. 3 on ABC's "20/20."


Conte and three others connected to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative were indicted in February by a federal grand jury for a variety of alleged offenses, including illegally distributing steroids.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, said Jones passed a lie detector test and includes a statement from her doctor saying she never used steroids. Jones won three gold medals and two bronzes during the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.

Conte's statements, the suit said, "are false and malicious."

A telephone call placed Wednesday to Conte's lawyer, Robert Holley, was not immediately returned.

Conte, BALCO vice president James Valente, track coach Remi
Korchemny and Greg Anderson, the personal trainer for baseball
slugger Barry Bonds, face federal indictment on a range of
accusations.

The federal charges include distributing steroids, possession of
human growth hormone, money laundering and misbranding drugs with
intent to defraud. All have pleaded not guilty.

Conte told ABC: "I think she made her decision, and she's going
to have to be accountable to the consequences of her decision. If
she said she didn't use drugs, then she lied."

Jones' lawsuit says she has passed 160 drug tests, including
five at the 2000 Olympics, and "has never taken banned
performance-enhancing drugs."

It claims that Conte's motive to concede steroid distribution
ahead of his criminal prosecution "appears motivated by a desire
to curry favor with prosecutors, garner sensationalized media
attention, bolster Conte's own financial and other self interests
and harm an individual against whom Conte has a long-standing
grudge."

The five attorneys representing Jones in the lawsuit wrote that
Conte "seeks to take full credit for all of her past successes,
falsely asserting that Jones' five Olympic medals in 2000 were the
product of his illegal drug regimen instead of Jones' true
talent."

Jones failed to win any medals at last summer's Athens Olympics.
She has been under investigation for months by the U.S. Anti-Doping
Agency, which has said it will take Conte's allegations into
account.

Conte, in an e-mail to The Associated Press, said the lawsuit was
"nothing more than a PR stunt by a desperate woman, who has
regularly used drugs throughout her career. I look forward with all
confidence to the court proceedings as I stand by everything I said
on the '20/20' special.''

The founder of Burlingame-based BALCO, Conte said he worked with
Jones from August 2000 to September 2001. He said he designed a
doping regimen for her that included the previously undetectable
steroid THG, the endurance-enhancing hormone EPO, human growth
hormone and insulin.

Following Conte's comments, the International Olympic Committee
opened an investigation into the allegations. World Anti-Doping
Agency chief Dick Pound, a senior IOC member, has said Jones should
be stripped of her medals if Conte is telling the truth.

In the lawsuit, one of the track star's doctors said she never
exhibited the physical signs of an athlete taking banned
substances.

None of the numerous blood and urine tests performed on her
registered positive for illegal drugs, nor were there were any
"physical changes or abnormalities that caused me to suspect that
Ms. Jones was using any type of illegal performance enhancing
drugs," said Richard T. Ferro, a North Carolina sports medicine
specialist.

A former FBI polygraph examiner said he tested Jones on June 16
about whether she ever used performance enhancing drugs or was
lying about "any personal use of performance enhancing drugs."

"It is my opinion that these responses are not indicative of
deception," former agent Ronald Homer wrote in the lawsuit.