Ex-IRS agent: Documents show contacts between Graham, Conte

SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal investigator testified on Tuesday that he found documents showing contacts between the track coach whose anonymous tip sparked the largest doping scandal in sports history and the head of the BALCO steroid lab.

Ex-IRS agent Jeff Novitzky was the first to testify in the trial against Jamaican-born Trevor Graham, who once coached star American sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones. Both athletes were disgraced and banned for steroid use in wake of the BALCO scandal.

Novitzky, who has spearheaded U.S. steroid probes into athletes, drug labs and distributors in recent years, said in a September 2003 search of a BALCO storage closet he found documents in which Victor Conte used a false name to send packages to Graham.

Some of the packages were directed to specific athletes by their initials such as MJ or TM, he testified before a jury in a San Francisco federal courtroom. Those initials were believed to be Jones and Montgomery.

Jones and Montgomery are among the many athletes linked to doping since the BALCO investigations began. More than a dozen athletes have been suspended or disciplined in connection with BALCO.

Graham is not charged with distributing steroids but lying about them.

Federal tax agents interviewed Graham in North Carolina in 2004 about steroids and his clients, granting him immunity from prosecution provided he told the truth. Two years later, a federal grand jury indicted him on three counts of lying about his relationship with Angel Heredia.

Heredia is expected by the government to testify he provided Graham performance-enhancing drugs and also provided similar drugs to several athletes referred by Graham.

Graham has pleaded innocent to the charges and has said he is the victim of an attempt to ruin him. He could face up to 15 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted of all charges.

The 44-year-old U.S. citizen sparked the BALCO doping scandal in 2003 by sending the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a syringe containing the then-undetectable steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG).

A falling out with Conte, the head of the BALCO lab who later served time in prison in the case, appears to have been a motivating factor.

"Trevor Graham certainly did not send in the syringe of THG as a noble deed. He did so out of competitive jealousy and greed," Conte told Reuters this week.

"The case against Trevor is about lying and not about his distribution of drugs. I don't think that Trevor has provided drugs to athletes, I know that he has," Conte said.

The biggest name indicted in the BALCO scandal -- baseball home run king Barry Bonds -- is yet to go to trial, with the same San Francisco courtroom scheduled to hold a hearing in the case next month.