BALCO's Conte Pleads Guilty to Steroid Charges
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The man at the center of the biggest sports doping scandal in history has pleaded guilty to illegal steroid distribution. The plea bargain by Victor Conte, founder of a California lab known as BALCO, means a trial is now unlikely. BALCO allegedly distributed steroids to top athletes. Victor Conte spoke briefly outside the courtroom today in San Francisco.
Mr. VICTOR CONTE (Founder, BALCO): After I've dealt with the consequences of my actions, I'd like to dedicate my life to helping to create a level playing field for the young athletes of the future.
NORRIS: We're joined now by NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, who's been following the BALCO investigation.
Tom, what happened in court today?
TOM GOLDMAN reporting:
Well, as you said, Michele, Victor Conte pleaded guilty to distribution of steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone and EPO, an oxygen-boosting substance that helps especially in endurance sports. In court, he said, `I agreed with others to distribute steroids. I knew at the time that steroid distribution was an unlawful activity.' Conte also pleaded guilty to money laundering.
Greg Anderson, the personal trainer to Barry Bonds, baseball superstar, pleaded to the same illegal distribution charge, as did James Valenti, the vice president of Conte's BALCO lab. Now a fourth man indicted last year, veteran track coach Remy Korchemny--he delayed accepting a plea agreement.
Scheduling is scheduled for October 18th. The government has made the following sentencing recommendations. Conte would get four months in prison, four months home detention. Anderson would get up to six months in prison. Valenti would get probation.
NORRIS: Now as we said, this probably means no trial; is that absolute?
GOLDMAN: Not absolute at this point. You never know with a case like this, which had lots of stops and starts. But at this point, as you said, it's unlikely a trial would happen, which would mean no testimony in open court by witnesses, and it would be a pretty power-packed witness list. It could have included the names of elite athletes who've been linked to the BALCO scandal: from track and field, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery; from baseball, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and others. And they most likely would have been asked under oath about illegal performance-enhancing drug use.
NORRIS: Lots of names on that list, but one that's been watched and often mentioned is Barry Bonds. Does this means he's off the hook?
GOLDMAN: Well, good question. Is Barry ever off the hook? It means he wouldn't have to testify. But already there's so much out there, pro and con, about Barry Bonds' involvement. You know, most people have made up their minds. He has steadfastly maintained his innocence, says he's never tested positive. But last year the San Francisco Chronicle revealed testimony he gave to a grand jury investigating BALCO in which he admitted taking the illegal steroids made by Victor Conte. He said he did so unknowingly, however. He said he thought he was using flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm. I should add that Bonds' future in general is in doubt. He said this week he doesn't know if he'll even play this season because he's been dealing with a knee injury.
NORRIS: So if it turns out that there is no BALCO trial, what does this do to the whole issue of doping in sports?
GOLDMAN: One anti-doping crusader I spoke to today said he was disappointed. The plea bargains and no trial would make it impossible to find out just what the facts were in this case. But he also called this a hiccup, a little bit of a setback, and that there's actually been a tremendous amount of momentum created by the scandal that won't stop. Congress has gotten involved; baseball's been forced to increase its steroid testing. And people are even talking about the problems of doping in high schools and how to fight back.
NORRIS: Thank you, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: NPR's Tom Goldman.