Could Barry Bonds be next?
With track star Marion Jones tearfully admitting in U.S. District Court on Friday that she lied about her use of performance enhancing drugs, the government might be ready to move on to the highest-profile case of the BALCO Laboratories scandal.
The strongest indication is that Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, remains in custody for refusing to answer questions by a grand jury investigating baseball's home run king for perjury and tax evasion. Anderson would have been released if the government no longer was interested in pursing Bonds, sources familiar with the process said Friday.
But Bonds' attorney Mike Rains has said prosecutors would have charged Bonds by now if they had a strong case. Rains says he has evidence of government misconduct, which he plans to allege if the case is pursued.
Jones' admission in court Friday in White Plains, N.Y., provided another clue that Bonds remains a target. Jones and Bonds offered similar responses to authorities when asked about their alleged use of drugs distributed by BALCO, the defunct Burlingame supplement company at the center of the case.
Jones, a winner of five medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, said in court that she took steroids from September 2000 to July 2001. The sprinter said her then-coach Trevor Graham told her the substance she took was flaxseed oil, but it actually was a previously undetectable steroid from BALCO called "the clear."
"By November 2003, I realized he was giving me performance-enhancing drugs," said Jones, who announced her retirement after Friday's hearing.
Her characterization is similar to one Bonds gave a San Francisco grand jury when he testified in 2003, according to transcripts that were leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Bonds is being investigated for lying under oath when he said that he believed the substances he took were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm. Prosecutors believe those substances were "the clear" and "the cream," two BALCO drugs.
Government prosecutors declined to comment about their intentions, but the 4-year-old investigation run by the San Jose office of the Department of Justice probably is not over.
Although athletes connected to BALCO were banned by sports governing bodies, none were found guilty of a crime until Jones, once one of the most compelling athletes in America, admitted to two counts of lying to federal investigators. The second count involved lying about her association with a check-fraud scheme. Former sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of Jones' child, pleaded guilty in that separate case.
According to court documents, prosecutors have suggested a prison term of no more than six months. The judge, however, could change that. The maximum sentence on each count is five years and a $250,000 fine. Jones is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 11.
The legal action could lead the International Olympic Committee to strip Jones of her three gold and two bronze medals from the 2000 Games.
"We welcome that there is now some light to be shed on the whole affair," IOC vice president Thomas Bach told the Associated Press on Friday. "Now, with this admission, we can accelerate and speed up the procedures."
After the hearing, Jones stood outside the courthouse with her mother's hand resting on her shoulder. In a tearful apology Jones said, "It is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you I have betrayed your trust.
"I want you to know that I have been dishonest and you have the right to be angry with me. I have let (my family) down. I have let my country down, and I have let myself down.
"I recognize that by saying I'm deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and hurt that I've caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
BALCO mastermind Victor Conte said Friday that he hopes people will forgive Jones, who filed a $25 million defamation suit against the nutritionist for saying he gave her a variety of drugs.
"I feel sad for Marion, and especially for her family because I've been through something similar," said Conte, who served four months in prison for illegally distributing steroids and laundering money from the profits. Conte added that the bigger lesson is "athletes are not gods. Athletes are human beings just like everybody else in society, and they make mistakes."
Olympic sports officials were relieved that Jones acknowledged her guilt after years of vehement denials and threats of lawsuits. "Her admission is long overdue and underscores the shame and dishonor that are inherent with cheating," said Peter Ueberroth, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
IOC President Jacques Rogge called it a "sad day for sport."
"The only good that can be drawn from today's revelations," Rogge said, "is that her decision to finally admit the truth will play, we hope, a key part in breaking the back of the BALCO affair."