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Tejada pleads guilty

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

Former Baltimore Orioles All-Star Miguel Tejada on Wednesday became the first baseball player to be convicted of a criminal charge stemming from the game's steroid scandal.

Tejada, 34, who pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in the District to a misdemeanor charge that he lied to congressional investigators about the steroid use of other players, is likely to avoid prison time as an agreement with prosecutors called for him to received a sentence between zero and six months. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 26 and also faces a maximum fine of $1,000.

The 45-minute hearing was the latest example of the move from the baseball diamond to the courthouse for the steroid scandal that stained the national pastime and cast aspersions on the accomplishments of a generation of players.

Barry Bonds, the game's all-time home run leader, is preparing to face trial on charges that he lied about his own steroid use, while a grand jury is considering whether seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens did the same. The sport took another hit when New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, long considered free of the taint of steroids, admitted this week taking performance-enhancing drugs as a member of the Texas Rangers.

Tejada, a shortstop who now plays for the Houston Astros, quietly walked into the courtroom Wednesday wearing a dark gray suit and a striped tie. He nodded to spectators as he walked into court and shook hands with prosecutors before taking his seat at the defense table.

A day earlier, prosecutors had charged him with misrepresentation to Congress and detailed much of the case in a court filing. Thus, the hearing offered only one surprise: Tejada admitted he bought human growth hormone (HGH) while playing for the Oakland Athletics in 2003, a year after he was named the American League MVP.

"Tejada claims that, after purchasing these substances, he had second thoughts about them and, instead of using them, he simply discarded them," according to a court document filed by U.S. Attorney for the District Jeffrey Taylor. "The United States has insufficient evidence to contradict defendant Tejada's claim."

But Tejada admitted he lied to congressional investigators when he said he said he did not know of any players who used steroids and never had any conversations with other players about performance-enhancing drugs.

The investigators questioned Tejada as part of a probe into whether his former Orioles teammate Rafael Palmeiro committed perjury when he told Congress he never used steroids. Palmeiro subsequently tested positive for the banned substance, a result he blamed on Tejada.

Palmeiro said he believed a tainted supplement he received from Tejada caused the positive result. Ultimately, investigators said they could not find evidence to charge Palmeiro with perjury. But for Tejada, it was another story.

A 2007 report by former Sen. George Mitchell into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball called Tejada's truthfulness into question.

According to the Mitchell Report, former player Adam Piatt said he sold HGH to Tejada in 2003 when both played for the Oakland Athletics. Mitchell's investigators obtained a check for $3,100 and another for $3,200 that Tejada purportedly wrote to Piatt for the performance-enhancing drugs.

Piatt told investigators he did not know whether Tejada used HGH but that he did discuss his own steroid and HGH use with Tejada. Piatt's statements became the basis for the charge against Tejada.

Tejada, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, faces potential serious consequences as a result of pleading, including possibly jeopardizing his immigration status. The agreement also requires him to cooperate should investigators seek his assistance in the future, though that provision does not refer to a specific case.