The federal drug agent who spearheaded the BALCO steroids case accused Barry Bonds yesterday of thwarting his investigation by giving grand jury testimony that was “inconsistent with the facts.”
Jeff Novitzky, the government’s point man on a series of high-profile probes into steroids in elite sports, was leadoff prosecution witness in the former Giants slugger’s trial on charges of lying under oath about his use of banned drugs.
During his 2003 testimony before the grand jury that was probing the steroid ring operated by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative in Burlingame, Bonds, baseball’s home run champion, said he never knowingly used BALCO drugs.
The testimony, which came after Bonds was granted immunity from prosecution for drug crimes, “absolutely” roiled the BALCO probe, Novitzky told the jury of eight women and four men in San Francisco federal court.
Bonds’ story directly contradicted the testimony of other athletes who had acknowledged to the grand jury that they had gotten undetectable designer steroids from BALCO and from Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, the agent said. His account also conflicted with evidence seized in a federal raid on BALCO, the agent said.
“Mr. Bonds’ testimony was inconsistent with the facts that had been gathered to that point,” Novitzky said.
“We had to take a look at other testimony that was provided that was contrary to Mr. Bonds’. Which person is telling the truth here?”
Bonds has pleaded not guilty to five felony charges – four counts of lying under oath, and one of obstruction of justice. Legal experts say that to win a conviction, the government must not only prove that Bonds lied, but that false statements were “material” – that they had an effect on the course of the grand jury’s investigation.
Late in the day, Novitzky was subjected to withering cross-examination from Bonds’ lead lawyer, Allen Ruby, on whether the government had cut an improper deal to obtain the testimony of Bonds’ former business manager, Steve Hoskins, who is emerging as a key government witness in Bonds’ trial.
Novitzky, a tall man with a shaved head, told the jury he was an IRS agent in 2002 when informants told him that BALCO president Victor Conte was dealing steroids to elite athletes, sometimes with the aid of Anderson, Bonds’ friend and weight trainer.
During a “covert” phase of the investigation, Novitzky said he began making late-night “trash runs” at BALCO, picking up the company’s trash and sorting through it for evidence.
“For about a period of a year I did this every week in the middle of the night,” he said.
Gradually, he said he obtained evidence that BALCO’s clientele of elite athletes – stars of Olympic track and field and NFL football as well as Major League Baseball – were getting banned drugs at the lab, sometimes in exchange for money, sometimes for endorsements of a nutritional supplement the company also sold.
Then, in a 2003 raid on BALCO and on Anderson’s nearby home, Novitzky said agents found a “trove” of banned drugs, along with documents reflecting steroid deals with the sports stars. To prove their case against Conte, Anderson and two suspected dealers, Novitzky said investigators decided to bring the athletes who had been BALCO customers before a grand jury.
He said the government had no interest in prosecuting Bonds or the other witnesses, who included former Yankees star Jason Giambi and four former Giants.
“The only thing you need to do is go in there and tell the truth” to avoid becoming an investigative target, Novitzky said the athletes were told. But Bonds’ testimony was at variance with the story the other athletes told – and that set the agents pursuing a series of investigative dead ends, the agent said.
Before Novitzky took the stand, trial judge Susan Illston sent Anderson, Bonds’ trainer, back to prison after he once again refused to testify about Bonds and steroids. Anderson, who pleaded guilty to steroid dealing in the BALCO case, has already served more than a year in prison for refusing to cooperate with the federal probe of Bonds.
The government wants Anderson to authenticate doping calendars and private steroid tests that they say the trainer arranged to track Bonds’ steroid use. Without his testimony, the evidence is inadmissible, the judge has ruled.
At a hearing outside the presence of the jury, Anderson once again refused to talk. As Bonds looked on, Anderson was taken away by federal marshals for the duration of the trial.
“If you change your mind and want to testify, just let everyone know ASAP,” the judge said.