A famed track coach, the trainer for baseball great Barry Bonds and two executives of a controversial nutritional firm were indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday on charges of distributing illegal steroids and human growth hormones to star athletes.
Following an 18-month secret probe that had some of the country's most famous athletes testifying before it, the grand jury in San Francisco issued indictments against Victor Conte, 53, owner of Burlingame, California-based BALCO Laboratories, his vice-president Jim Valente, 49, track coach Remi Korchemny, 71, and Greg Anderson, 37, Bonds's personal trainer.
The four, who live in the San Francisco area, are expected to appear in court on Friday.
"While operating BALCO, Conte and others conspired to distribute illegal performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and various other prescription drugs, to dozens of athletes," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in Washington D.C.
Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson added: "These drugs went to world-class track and field athletes and professional football and baseball players, even to Olympians, those who are expected throughout the world to meet a standard of fair play."
The indictment said BALCO distributed steroids in a testosterone-based cream, as well as a liquid drug known by its code name of "The Clear" which contained THG, a previously undetectable steroid.
"We plan on fighting the charges," said Conte's lawyer Troy Ellerman. Valente's office had no comment.
LINKS TO TOP ATHLETES
The indictment covering the period of 2000 to 2003 did not name any athletes, but Ashcroft left open the possibility of additional investigation or charges.
"We don't want to signal in any way that we are closing the book on this," he said. "We have not limited prosecutions in this setting to those prosecuted today."
Bonds's lawyer Mike Rains told Reuters in November that the San Francisco Giant slugger could have unknowingly used steroids in cream or liquids he took as nutritional boosts.
Since October, when the closed grand jury hearings on BALCO began, dozens of high-profile athletes have testified, including Bonds, U.S. pro-football linebacker Bill Romanowski and five-time track-and-field Olympic [ Images ] medallist Marion Jones [ Images ].
Internal Revenue special agent Jeff Novitzky said in court documents that a review of BALCO's trash and medical waste over a year's period indicated the firm's involvement in the distribution of steroids and human growth hormones.
The documents also had excerpts of e-mails to show evidence of a conspiracy to hide the trafficking of the steroids.
An August 2002 e-mail from Conte told a track and field coach whose name was not given, to warn "the Greek athletes" not the use the "Clear" any more because someone had sent a sample of the drug to the International Olympic Committee.
Athletes received these drugs partially in exchange for endorsing a nutritional supplement sold by Conte called ZMA. Among the athletes who praised ZMA is Bonds, the record holder for home runs in a single season.
The indictment reports Conte also received amounts ranging from $120 to $7,350 from professional athletes and frequently took large cash withdrawals from his bank account.
An affidavit with the indictment said an informant had named Emeric Delczeg, a Romanian-born California bodybuilder, as a person who brought BALCO steroids from Europe.
Delczeg told Reuters he had sold Conte's nutritional supplements but said he had no dealings in illegal steroids.
Korchemny, who was born in neighboring Ukraine but now lives in California, coaches top sprinters Dwain Chambers of Britain and Americans Kelli White and Chryste Gaines.
Chambers has tested positive for THG, while White and Gaines have tested positive for the stimulant modafinil. Korchemny was told last month he could not serve on the U.S. coaching staff at the world indoor championships next month in Budapest.
Korchemny, reached at home, told Reuters he had not heard about the indictment. "I don't know anything," he said. "I was asleep and have not heard anything and don't want to comment."
Greg Anderson is the personal trainer for Bonds, who defended him in November and said he was unaware of Anderson having any involvement with banned drugs.