Last week federal prosecutors in San Francisco announced that they will try a 46-year-old former slugger who hasn't been in the majors for years for allegedly lying about steroids in 2003.
That would be Barry Bonds, of course, playing in the first game of what promises to be a Sports Doping Doubleheader, followed by what appears to be the certain trial of Lance Armstrong, the champion 38-year-old cyclist who just bombed at his last Tour de France.
If Armstrong needed evidence that the federal investigation into alleged fraud and sports doping on the US Postal team was not going away any time soon, here it is. While the Armstrong grand jury is only now getting underway in Los Angeles, the grand jury that swept up Bonds was convened seven years ago -- back during the first term of President George W. Bush.
The lesson for Lance is that if the Bonds case is any indication the government treats the doping trials of superstar athletes as marathons. Forget about Armstrong's famed endurance in winning seven Tours de France. Armstrong may have to out pedal his pursuers for nearly a decade.
Back in the spring of 2009, the government all but threw in the towel in the perjury case against Bonds. On the eve of trial, prosecutors appealed a court ruling, seeming to abandon the long running case.
Last Friday those same prosecutors went before judge Susan Illston, and asked for a court date. The Bonds trial is now set for March of 2011, right before the baseball season. Prosecutors lost their motion to introduce what they thought was their strongest evidence that Bonds might have lied about drugs -- alleged positive steroid tests -- because they couldn't prove they were Bond's tests.
But that doesn't mean they won't turn up the heat.
Greg Anderson, Bonds' former trainer, previously went to jail for a year on contempt charges, for refusing to testify about the tests. Prosecutors have made it clear that they will ask that he be jailed again if he refuses to talk. Last year twenty federal agents raided Anderson's mother-in-law's home in a crude attempt to pressure him to testify.
Armstrong and his lawyers should expect anything and everything. BALCO The Sequel will likely prove that prosecutors and investigators will go to any expense and all lengths to try and convict a superstar for sports doping.
Former sluggers charged with lying about using performance-enhancing drugs or washed up champion cyclists who allegedly used them while riding on the U.S. Postal team, are destined for a long, inevitable prosecution.
Trials of cheating in sports are played by different rules. As Armstrong and his lawyers have already seen, the first trial will be a slow stealth attack in the media by government witnesses. Floyd Landis and Greg LeMond, both likely witnesses before the grand jury, have been leaking their stories steadily to the press.
The Bonds case has been riddled by criminal leaks by the federal government, as well as by Troy Ellerman, a defense attorney. Ellerman was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for leaking grand jury material to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The government no doubt will say there's a difference. Ellerman leaked what the witnesses told the grand jury, while Landis and LeMond appear to be leaking in advance what they are going to tell the grand jury.
The show goes on.
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