The government’s hazy victory in the Bonds trial _ one conviction, three counts undecided _ left an equally split opinion on how prosecutors might proceed in the two high-profile doping-related sports cases left on its docket.
Some view the Bonds trial and Wednesday’s verdict as more fuel for prosecutors to pursue these kind of cases, while skeptics said the trial produced more questions about why the government is spending so much time and money going after high-profile athletes in less-than-airtight cases.
“My guess is, I’d expect other investigations to continue,” said a former federal prosecutor, Laurie Levenson of Loyola University Law School. “I think people will still realize how hard it was to bring a case like this. But I doubt federal prosecutors will be walking away from cases like this. In fact, this will probably embolden them.”
Bonds, arguably the biggest name to emerge from the federal investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, could receive up to 10 years in prison for his obstruction-of-justice conviction, though federal guidelines call for 15-21 months. For similar offenses in the BALCO case, the judge in the Bonds case has sentenced defendants to home confinement.
Whether or not baseball’s all-time home run leader is incarcerated, the case once again brought up questions about the government’s role in fighting doping in sports.
“What bothers me is that you’ve got a very powerful federal government that has the money and time and resources to ruin someone’s reputation,” said Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, who last month questioned the Food and Drug Administration about its bankrolling of parts of the investigation into Armstrong. “Why did it take eight years to get to this point on Barry Bonds? And with all the problems we’ve got, why are we sitting here at the end of an eight-year investigation?”
The answer, according to the government and those in the anti-doping community: Because the cases are worth pursuing, both on their own merits and because of the messages they send about the need to play fair _ at the highest levels, all the way down to little league.
The prosecutors, of course, make their biggest headlines when they reach for the big boys.
Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, has long been accused of doping despite his long and vehement string of denials and the fact that he has never tested positive. Led by BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky, who now works for the FDA, the U.S. government has been looking into the cyclist’s case for nearly 12 months. Armstrong’s representatives declined comment when asked about the Bonds verdict.
Meanwhile, Clemens is scheduled to go on trial in July for lying to Congress for denying using steroids. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, declined comment.
The Clemens case is one of the many with roots that can be traced to BALCO, which, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has resulted in the suspension of 25 athletes and coaches in Olympic sports along with the forfeiture of more than 30 Olympic medals, U.S. titles and world records. It also helped lead to the drafting of the Mitchell Report, which outed many of baseball’s best players, including Clemens, for alleged steroid use.
“BALCO was a game changer in preventing fraud, corruption and illicit drug use from ruining our country’s sports,” said USADA’s Travis Tygart, in explaining the importance of the government investigation.
He said Wednesday’s verdict “sends a clear message to those who have participated in criminal activity that nobody is above the law.”
Some experts, however, think American investigators may have been hurt by the jury’s somewhat head-scratching conclusion. It found Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice but did so without reaching decisions on charges that he lied to the grand jury when he said he never knowingly took steroids or HGH, and when he said he was never injected by anyone except his doctors.