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Friday, November 19, 2004
Tape athletes? Conte said 'absolutely not'


SAN FRANCISCO -- Victor Conte, head of the BALCO lab at the center of a global steroid scandal, says in court papers to be filed Friday that a federal agent asked him last year whether he would secretly record athletes suspected of doping.

The papers come ahead of a Dec. 1 hearing at which a judge will review motions to dismiss the case that has tarnished the reputations of some of the top names in international sport.

In one document, Conte recalls a Sept. 3, 2003, search of his office in which Internal Revenue Agent Jeff Novitzky questioned him. "Novitzky even asked if I was willing to wear a wire and secure evidence of the involvement of anyone," he declared. "I told him 'absolutely not.'"

Conte said he did list athletes with whom he had worked. Many of those he named were later called to testify behind closed doors before a federal grand jury.

"We simply made a list of athletes that I had worked with and provided legal services," Conte said in the filing. "I did not at anytime say that I provided the 'clear' and the 'cream' to any of the athletes that were put on his list," he said, referring to two steroids.

"At no time did I confess to distributing steroids."

In a late October court filing, Novitzky wrote: "Conte openly acknowledged giving testosterone-base cream -- itself a steroid -- to numerous professional athletes and specifically identified the names of the specific athletes to whom he had given drugs."

Among those athletes named in a separate IRS memorandum on that conversation are MLB stars Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi; NFL player Bill Romanowski; and a long list of track and field stars that includes super-couple Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.

The documents dispute statements the government said Conte made when agents raided his Burlingame nutritional supplement business in September 2003.

Conte alleged the government fabricated statements that suggested he provided steroids to top athletes, including Barry Bonds, according to the federal court documents filed Friday.

"I very clearly told all four of the law enforcement officers present that I would not cooperate with them in any way, regarding any of the physicians, coaches or athletes involved with BALCO Laboratories," VConte said in the documents.

Novitzky's filings made no reference to asking Conte to wear a wire. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office overseeing the case declined to comment.

In another declaration Friday, Conte's deputy, James Valente, also said Novitzky asked Conte "if he would be willing to participate in their investigation by wearing a wire and then communicating with several people. He asked Victor if he would record his future communications with certain doctors, athletes and others such as Patrick Arnold."

According to an IRS memo made public in court documents last month, Arnold sold Conte a $450 supply of the "clear" that lasted for several years.

A number of athletes related to BALCO, including world 100-meters record holder Montgomery and former Olympic 4x100 gold medalist Chryste Gaines, have been charged with serious doping violations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Conte and Valente, as well as Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, and track and field coach Remi Korchemny all face federal steroid distribution charges.

In their latest court filing, Conte and Valente also said prosecutors irreparably tainted the case by leaking damaging details to the public.

"From the very beginning, they misused their authority by expending government funds to target high profile athletes for their personal aggrandizement," their attorneys wrote.

Information from The Associated Press was also used in this report.