SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 12 -- Four Bay Area men, including the personal trainer for San Francisco Giants baseball star Barry Bonds and a renowned track coach, conspired to distribute an exotic array of anabolic steroids and other performance- enhancing drugs to dozens of athletes from Major League Baseball, the NFL and the world of track and field, the government charged Thursday.
The 42-count indictment did not name any of the athletes who allegedly received illegal steroids, but it portrayed the four men as operating a virtual clearinghouse for performance-enhancing drugs out of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, a nutritional supplement company. The government alleged the company served as a cover for the distribution of steroids under code names such as "The Cream" and "The Clear."
BALCO founder Victor Conte Jr., an amateur scientist who did not finish college, in October displayed a bottle of his dietary supplement ZMA.
(Paul Sakuma -- AP)
The four men charged in the indictment were Victor Conte Jr., 53, BALCO's president and founder; James J. Valente, 49, the company's vice president; Greg F. Anderson, 37, Bonds's personal weight trainer; and Remi Korchemny, 71, a Ukrainian-born sprint coach who trained Chryste Gaines, a 1996 Olympic relay gold medalist, and Dwain Chambers, the fastest man in Britain, among others.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who announced the indictments in Washington, suggested that the government may yet charge athletes as part of the wide-ranging investigation. "I think I've made very clear that we have not limited prosecutions in this setting to those who are being prosecuted today," he said.
"Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them but also the integrity of the sports that those athletes play," Ashcroft said. "Steroids are bad for sports. They're bad for players. They're bad for young people who hold athletes up as role models. Steroid use threatens the lives and health of individuals, leads to injuries and fosters a destructive culture contrary to the values that make sports such an important part of American life."
A 52-page affidavit attached to the indictment indicated that for at least a year investigators found discarded vials of steroids and used syringes in BALCO's garbage, the detritus of steroids and human growth hormone in the company's medical waste and a trail of e-mail exchanges documenting Conte's frank correspondence with athletes and coaches about steroids and ways to avoid their detection in standard tests.
In one exchange, dated June 28, 2003, an unidentified track coach wrote Conte that he was forwarding a list of banned substances, noting that the list included the stimulant Modafinil and a recently detected steroid, Norbolethone. "I guess the party is up," the coach wrote Conte.
Conte, in another exchange with a coach, referred to drugs by their initials and warned the recipient of the e-mail to "remember that all e-mails are saved for a very long time, so be careful about how you say what you say. Searches for keywords like 'anabolic' and many others are going on at all times by big brother."
Conte, Valente and Anderson could not be reached to comment, and their attorneys did not return phone calls. Conte, Anderson and Korchemny have previously denied supplying athletes with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Korchemny, reached at his Castro Valley home as the indictments were being announced in Washington, said: "I don't have any comment; just minutes ago I learned about this." He then hung up.
The four men are scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning in San Francisco. The charges include conspiracy to distribute steroids, possession of human growth hormone, money laundering and mislabeling drugs with intent to defraud.
The indictments were applauded by experts who work closely on the steroid issue. "It's a pretty glorious day for those of us who want to clean up sports," said Donald H. Catlin, a UCLA researcher who decoded tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, a steroid that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has said was distributed by BALCO and engineered to avoid standard drug tests.
Catlin, who assisted the government in the investigation, called the indictments "the first blush. It's hard to know where it's going."
The case is potentially explosive for all major sports, but particularly Major League Baseball, whose most prominent player, Bonds, is closely tied to Conte and Anderson, who played Little League with the Giants slugger. Bonds was BALCO's most prominent endorser.
Anderson trained Bonds, who hit a record 73 home runs in 2001, at Bay Area Fitness, a gym around the corner from BALCO. After the company was raided on Sept. 3, investigators walked to the gym and questioned Anderson. Two days later, they broke down the door to his nearby condominium and discovered $60,000 in cash, steroids, the names of athletes and what appeared to be their schedules for using the drugs, according to published reports.