Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative founder Victor Conte pleaded guilty in San Francisco yesterday to conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering in a deal with federal prosecutors, making it much less likely that top athletes such as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Marion Jones will be forced to testify about alleged drug use.

Greg Anderson, Bonds's longtime friend and personal trainer, pleaded guilty to the same charges in exchange for a sentence of up to six months. BALCO vice president James Valente pleaded guilty to one count of distributing illegal steroids and is expected to receive two years' probation.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop dozens of counts against Conte, Anderson and Valente.

A fourth man, track coach Remi Korchemny, delayed accepting any plea agreement.

Conte was charged with conspiring to distribute performance-enhancing drugs to more than 30 baseball, football and track and field stars.

The money laundering charges carried a maximum 20-year term and the conspiracy charge five years.

But authorities said because of sentencing guidelines that consider a wide range of factors, including past criminal conduct and whether a defendant admitted guilt, Conte and the others weren't likely to get more than a year in prison even if they pleaded guilty to all the charges.

Under Conte's deal, if accepted by the judge this fall, he'll spend four months in prison and four months on house arrest.

-- From News Services