From 'top of mountain' to prison: Former gold medalist hits bottom

Updated: May 16, 2008, 6:57 PM ET
Associated Press

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Olympic gold medalist Tim Montgomery's once-celebrated life continued its long downward spiral Friday when a federal judge sentenced the former "world's fastest man" to nearly four years in prison for dealing in bad checks.

The judge also warned Montgomery, 33, that the evidence against him "does not appear to be flimsy" in an ongoing case in Virginia, where he is accused of selling heroin. A conviction there would carry a minimum mandatory five-year sentence.

Montgomery, wearing a white T-shirt and baggy pants, lamented the turns his life has taken as he asked Judge Kenneth Karas for leniency just before the 46-month sentence was imposed.

Montgomery

Montgomery

"I've had everything I ever wanted in life," said Montgomery, who won medals in two Olympics and set a record in the 100-meter dash that was later erased because of doping. "I've stood on the top of the mountain." Now, he said, he's rooming with murderers and pedophiles in a Virginia jail.

"The gold medal, all those people cheering, that was part of another world," he said. "In jail, my status is gone."

Montgomery told the judge he had let other people run his life, right down to deciding what to eat for breakfast. And his lawyer, Timothy Heaphy, said Montgomery had been led astray by, among others, track superstar Marion Jones. Jones, who had a son with Montgomery, is serving her own six-month prison term for lying about Montgomery's involvement in the check scam and about her use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The check case also ensnared Montgomery's former coach, gold medalist Steve Riddick, and agent, Charles Wells. Both pleaded guilty.

But the judge said others were not to blame in the check case.

" 'You should commit bank fraud' is not the same as 'You should eat Wheaties,' " Karas said. "There is not a single shred of evidence here that this was anyone else's fault."

A small group of family and friends traveled to the sentencing from South Carolina. Montgomery's father, Eddie Montgomery, asked the judge for leniency, saying the supportive family would help keep his son straight after prison.

Karas praised the family but said close family ties only showed that Montgomery had no difficult childhood or broken home to blame for his wrongdoing.

Montgomery won a silver medal in the 400 relay at the 1996 Olympics and a gold medal in the same event in 2000. In 2002, he set a world record of 9.78 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

The world record, and all his other performances after March 31, 2001, were wiped from the books, and he was banned from track for two years, for doping linked to the investigation of BALCO, the lab at the center of a steroid scandal in sports. Montgomery never tested positive for drugs, but he retired after the ban was imposed.

In 2006, Montgomery was charged in the check scheme, which prosecutors said involved plans to deposit $5 million in stolen, altered or counterfeit checks over three years at several banks. He pleaded guilty in April 2007.

Four months later, according to the Virginia indictment, Montgomery was dealing heroin. He allegedly met four times with a confidential informant and sold a total of 111 grams of heroin for $8,450. He has pleaded not guilty.

In deciding on the prison term, the judge said he would not hold the new charges against Montgomery, since he has not been convicted. But Karas sentenced him to the very top of the 37-46 month range suggested by federal sentencing guidelines.

Montgomery hung his head as the sentence was pronounced. Besides the prison time, Karas imposed five years of supervision after his release and ordered him to pay back $375,000 to a bank he had cheated.

"I know this is a tough day for you," the judge said.

As Montgomery left the courtroom, he nodded and smiled at his relatives.

Outside court, Heaphy said he was sure Montgomery could have a successful life after prison.

"He is amazingly determined, amazingly charismatic," the defense lawyer said. "Here, he showed shockingly bad judgment."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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