Graham trial could expose previously untainted athletes
Trevor Graham, who rose to fame from coaching U.S. track and field stars -- none more notable than former Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones -- will be tried this week on felony charges. Federal prosecutors claim that he knowingly lied to government officials about the use, sale and distribution of steroids from the infamous Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO).
Not only does the trial expose Graham to potential incarceration like Jones, who is serving a six month sentence for a BALCO-related perjury guilty plea, but it poses far-reaching consequences: The naming-and shaming-of numerous track and field stars; an ill-timed embarrassment to USA Track and Field with the Beijing Summer Olympic Games approaching; and the revelation of testimony and litigation strategies that may help Barry Bonds and his legal team prepare for a perjury trial that would likely involve the same prosecutors, the same judge and a similar set of facts.
Graham's trial, which is scheduled to begin on Monday morning and is expected to last five days before Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is the latest in a series of trials that share a basic premise: The defendants are alleged to have knowingly lied, either under oath to a grand jury or to government officials, about their involvement in, or knowledge of, the use, sale and distribution of BALCO-based anabolic steroids and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Last month, also before Judge Illston, the government obtained a perjury conviction of cyclist Tammy Thomas, who was deemed to have knowingly lied to a grand jury about her purchase of steroids from BALCO. Judge Illston is also scheduled to hear the government's perjury case against Bonds, whose trial will likely occur later this year.
Unlike Jones, Thomas and Bonds, however, Graham has not been charged with perjury, which refers to knowingly and unequivocally lying while under oath and in response to a clearly-worded question. He instead faces three counts of violating Title 18 of the United States Code (Section 1001), which prohibits the act of knowingly and willfully lying to government officials in regard to any matter within the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Put another way, Graham is not alleged to have knowingly lied while under oath to a grand jury, but to have knowingly lied to government officials while they investigated BALCO. The consequences of violating Section 1001 are serious, as those convicted can face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each charge. A first-time offender, however, typically receives a much lighter sentence.
Section 1001 charges are not uncommon in large government investigations, including those involving celebrities. Perhaps most notably, Martha Stewart was convicted in 2004 of violating Section 1001 in the ImClone insider trading case. More relevant to sports, Houston Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada could eventually be charged with violating Section 1001 should the government conclude that he knowingly lied to members of Congress and their staffs while they investigated steroids in baseball.
The case against Graham rests on his statements to government investigators, who originally found Graham to be a willing and knowledgeable source of BALCO information. Graham had a rivalry of sorts with BALCO's president and founder Victor Conte, whom Graham believed was giving certain sprinters an unfair advantage by supplying them with steroids. Conte thought the same of Graham and the sprinters he coached. Graham, however, upped the ante by anonymously mailing to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a syringe that would ultimately prove that Conte was dealing steroids. The syringe contained the designer steroid Tetrahydrogestrinone ("THG" or "the Clear"), and the syringe would set in motion IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky's still on-going investigation into possible money laundering at BALCO, as well as the ultimate downfall of Conte, who would plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and spend four months in prison.
Of particular interest to this case, Novitzky's investigation of BALCO's facilities uncovered an unsent letter, apparently written by Conte. The letter implied that Graham had been working with reputed steroid dealer and now star government witness Angel "Memo" Heredia, who allegedly distributed steroids to over a dozen Olympic medalists, some of whom, including the disgraced Tim Montgomery, were coached by Graham. Heredia would later confirm the letter's assertion to federal investigators.