Federal prosecutors are moving a little more quickly against sports stars suspected of using banned drugs.
In 2003, Barry Bonds, baseball’s home run king, told a San Francisco grand jury he had never used banned drugs supplied by the BALCO steroids lab.
Four years went by before the former Giants star was finally indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice.
But when it came to retired pitching ace Roger Clemens, who in 2008 declared he had never used steroids or human growth hormone, the turnaround time on the perjury indictment was a brisk 30 months.
A grand jury in Washington, D.C., yesterday accused the former star of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox of lying and obstructing justice in 2008 testimony before a congressional committee.
Bonds’ trial is set for March, more than seven years after his disputed grand jury testimony.
Clemens probably won’t go to trial until sometime in 2012 – four years after his nationally televised testimony. That’s assuming, of course, that a plea deal isn’t cut.
There are parallels between the cases against Bonds, the greatest slugger of the modern era, and Clemens, who arguably was the era’s greatest pitcher.
Both athletes are accused of using steroids to make themselves stronger and less injury-prone, and then claiming they played clean.
Both were targeted by a government team that included federal drug investigator Jeff Novitzky, a former Internal Revenue Service agent who now works steroids cases for the Food and Drug Administration.
And in both cases, prosecutors will be required to prove not only that the sports stars used banned drugs – but also that they knowingly and intentionally lied about it under oath. Thus questions of state of mind come to the fore.
Privately, the government insists that the cases against both athletes are winnable. But they acknowledge that the case against Clemens is stronger.
In part, that’s because Bonds’ trial judge pruned back the government’s evidence, banning mention of some positive drug test results that seemingly proved his drug use. Judge Susan Illston said prosecutors didn’t sufficiently tie the tests to Bonds.
Clemens’ lawyers haven’t yet had a crack at the evidence against the pitching star. It’s expected to include used syringes collected by the pitcher’s former personal trainer, Brian McNamee. McNamee said he stashed the needles in a beer can after using them to inject Clemens with banned drugs. Defense lawyers almost certainly will seek to get that evidence tossed – perhaps making the same challenge that succeeded in the Bonds case.
Another significant difference between the cases: Clemens, in his testimony before the House committee on oversight and government reform was adamant that he was had never used banned drugs.
“I am just making it as possibly as clear as I can,” he said at one point. “I haven’t done steroids or growth hormone.”
He also said, according to the indictment, “I never used steroids. Never performance-enhancing drugs.”
The staff of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, also worked hard to lock down Clemens’ story and warn him of the consequences of lying.
“If you knowingly provide false testimony, you could be subject to criminal prosecution for perjury, false statements and other offenses. Do you understand this?” a staff lawyer said to Clemens during a prehearing deposition.
“I do,” Clemens replied.
At the BALCO grand jury, Bonds, too, was admonished that he could be prosecuted for lies.
But unlike Clemens, Bonds gave rambling, long-winded answers to questions about his use of banned drugs. The prosecutors struggled to keep him on point and pin him down.
In "Game of Shadows," my book with Mark Fainaru-Wada, we described how Bonds responded when asked whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, had been providing him with two steroid-laced BALCO products, "the cream" and "the clear":
“At the end of 2002-03 season, when I was going through my dad died of cancer … I was fatigued, just needed recovery you know, and this guy says, ‘Try this cream, try this cream,’ (Bonds) said. “And Greg came to the ballpark and said, you know, ‘This will help you recover.’ And he rubbed some cream on my arm … gave me some flax seed oil, man. It’s like, ‘Whatever, dude.’"
“And I was at the ballpark, whatever. I don’t care. What’s lotion going to do to me? How many times have I heard that ‘This is going to rub into you and work?’ Let him be happy, we’re friends, you know?”
Bonds was shown a vial the government believed had contained the clear. Bonds insisted it was for flaxseed oil. He said he had ingested the substance by placing a couple of drops under his tongue – the prescribed method for taking the BALCO steroid, but hardly the common way to down flaxseed oil, a product sold at health food stores.
“And I was like, to me, it didn’t even work,” he told the grand jury. “You know me, I’m 39 years old. I’m dealing with pain. All I want is the pain relief, you know? And you know, to recover, you know, night games to day games. That’s it. And I didn’t think the stuff worked. I was like, ‘Dude, whatever,’ but he’s my friend …"