Instigator of Steroids Inquiry May Be a Target
07-20-2006 12:24 PM
Instigator of Steroids Inquiry May Be a Target
New York Times
July 20, 2006
Instigator of Steroids Inquiry May Be a Target
By DUFF WILSON
SAN FRANCISCO, July 20 — While national attention has focused on a possible federal indictment of Barry Bonds as early as today, the grand jury in the case is also investigating one of the world’s top track coaches, according to people with knowledge of the proceedings.
The coach, Trevor Graham, set off the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids case when he anonymously mailed a syringe to the United States Anti-Doping Agency in June 2003. Chemists found a new type of steroid in the syringe, prompting the biggest drug scandal in the history of sports.
The Balco investigation has led to five criminal convictions, sanctions against 14 track and field athletes, the return of one Olympic medal and the storm of doubt that has followed Mr. Bonds as he approaches the major league career record for home runs.
Mr. Graham is the head coach at Sprint Capitol USA in Raleigh, N.C., and has trained some of the world’s top track and field athletes, including Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery and C. J. Hunter. He is the current coach of Justin Gatlin, who jointly holds the world record in the 100-meter dash.
In a lengthy statement to federal investigators in 2004, Mr. Graham denied setting up any of his athletes with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. While at least six athletes for Mr. Graham have received suspensions for drug use, he has always denied direct knowledge or involvement.
But a man who worked with Mr. Graham has told the grand jury here and federal investigators that he was the main supplier of performance-enhancing drugs to Mr. Graham and many of his athletes, including Ms. Jones and Mr. Montgomery, the onetime holder of the 100-meter world record, according to people with knowledge of the testimony. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation had not concluded.
The man, Angel Guillermo Heredia, 31, of Mexico and Laredo, Tex., an athlete and a nutritionist, has testified that he provided steroids, human growth hormone and the performance-enhancing drug EPO at the direction of Mr. Graham from about 1996 through 2000, the people with knowledge of the testimony said. Mr. Heredia told investigators that he had split with Mr. Graham over a financial dispute.
Mr. Heredia’s account contradicts what Mr. Graham told investigators in June 2004. Mr. Graham said he had never met Mr. Heredia in person and had not spoken to him since 1997, according to a summary of the interview prepared by Jeff Novitzky, an I.R.S. agent who is leading the Balco investigation.
Unlike Mr. Bonds, Mr. Graham did not testify before the grand jury and thus would be unlikely to be charged with perjury. But he could face charges of making false statements or obstructing justice.
Mr. Graham did not respond to e-mail messages on Wednesday summarizing the testimony against him and seeking his comment. But in an e-mail response today, his lawyer, Joseph E. Zeszotarski, wrote this about Mr. Graham: “He has never been involved in distributing any illegal substance to anyone. Trevor has always been very clear on this point. The claims attributed to Mr. Heredia are false, and we are more than prepared to prove that fact.”
A lawyer for Mr. Heredia did not return multiple telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Mr. Heredia testified twice before grand juries in San Francisco, once in 2003 or 2004 and again on March 24. The New York Times has reviewed a copy of Mr. Heredia’s most recent grand jury subpoena.
The subpoena ordered Mr. Heredia to bring records since 1997 and testify about eight people. Mr. Graham led the list, followed by seven athletes from his camp: Ms. Jones, Mr. Hunter, Antonio Pettigrew, Garfield Ellenwood, Michelle Collins, Duane Ross and Jerome Young.
Mr. Heredia testified that all had used steroids or, in Mr. Graham’s case, had dispensed them. Mr. Heredia testified that he knew that because he had provided the drugs, sometimes having them carried across the border from Mexico.
Mr. Heredia’s home in Laredo is just across the border from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where pharmacies flourish. Street agents beckon visitors into storefronts. They offer prescriptions for a variety of controlled substances without having to see a doctor or receive a medical check-up. Some of these drugs are legal in Mexico but not in the United States. They are, however, still banned in athletics.
Mr. Heredia provided the grand jury with receipts and other financial records, e-mail messages and the results of blood and urine tests of athletes.
He testified that he made a drug plan for Ms. Jones, provided the drugs to her and worked with her in preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she won a record five medals, including three golds.
’’Ms. Jones has always been emphatically clear that she has never used performance-enhancing drugs,’’ Richard M. Nichols, Ms. Jones’s lawyer, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday night. Mr. Nichols said he had never heard of Mr. Heredia.
Ms. Jones’s career faltered badly after the Balco investigation in 2004, and she missed almost all of last year because of injuries. She has returned to top form this summer, though, and earlier this month ran her fastest time in the 100 meters in four years.
Mr. Montgomery has been suspended from competition until June 2007 for using a steroid, and his world record in the 100 meters was taken away.
Mr. Hunter is Ms. Jones’s ex-husband and a former world champion shot-putter who was disqualified from the 2000 Olympics after testing positive for steroids. Ms. Jones and Mr. Pettigrew hold Olympic gold medals. Mr. Young, a sprinter, was ordered to return his gold medal after a steroids finding and was barred for life by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
Mr. Ellwood was a runner and coach. Ms. Collins and Mr. Ross were sprinters. Last year, Ms. Collins accepted a four-year ban for doping violations.
Mr. Heredia has also talked with federal investigators more recently about some of the athletes Mr. Graham is currently coaching, including Mr. Gatlin, a gold medal winner who tied the world record in the 100-meter dash, and the fellow sprinters Shawn Crawford and Lisa Barber. But Mr. Heredia told investigators that he had no knowledge of steroid use by them.
Mr. Heredia told investigators that many professional and Olympic athletes cheated with drugs because their competitors did, that it was easy to beat testing procedures and that he would like to help clean up sports.
His account echoes many of the statements made by Victor Conte, the founder of Balco, who is serving the end of a sentence of four months in prison and four months of house arrest for money laundering and steroid distribution.
Mr. Heredia told the grand jury that he set up drug usage by Mr. Montgomery and then had his blood tested at a Mexican laboratory. The Mexican blood tests were independently corroborated by documents found in Balco offices.
Mr. Heredia told investigators that he provided drugs only to international and professional athletes, not to younger amateur athletes. He also told investigators that he was a major supplier of performance-enhancing drugs and was an expert in developing programs to take them safely and avoid detection.
In interviews with The Times, John Burks, Mr. Graham’s former assistant coach and close friend, said that he did not have firsthand knowledge of steroid use but that he knew Mr. Heredia and Mr. Graham well and that he believed there was illegal drug use at Sprint Capitol USA. Mr. Burks said he testified before the grand jury once.
Mr. Burks has known Mr. Graham since they ran on the track team together at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C., and lived together there. Mr. Burks was an assistant coach at Sprint Capitol from 1999 to early 2001. Mr. Burks also split with Mr. Graham over a financial dispute.
Mr. Burks said he told the grand jury that Mr. Graham had instructed him to prevent unannounced drug testing at the training track.
’’He was away from town with other athletes, and he said don’t let anybody test anybody,’’ Mr. Burks said. He recalled athletes dodging the tests when alerted. ’’At Sprint Capitol, drug testers would show up, and athletes would run and jump fences and hide,’’ Mr. Burks said in an interview.
Mr. Graham, a quarter-miler who won a silver medal for Jamaica at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, became a famous coach by nurturing the career of Ms. Jones. He later admitted that he had sent authorities the Balco syringe, which he said he obtained from an athlete who purchased it from Mr. Conte.
’’I was just a coach doing the right thing,’’ Mr. Graham told reporters at the 2004 Athens Games.
Mr. Heredia and Mr. Burks have told the grand jury that Mr. Graham did not turn in the syringe to clean up sports, but rather, to try to knock out Mr. Conte’s Balco operation, which was setting up athletes with other coaches and competing with Sprint Capitol. Mr. Conte has said the same thing.
Mr. Graham denied any involvement with banned drugs during an interview with federal investigators on June 8, 2004, according to a nine-page summary of the interview, attached to a court file in the Balco case.
Two paragraphs of Mr. Graham’s statement deal with Mr. Heredia, who is nicknamed Memo.
’’Graham never set up any of his athletes with drugs obtained from Memo LNU,’’ the interview summary says, using a designation for Last Name Unknown. ’’Graham is not aware of any of his athletes getting drugs from Mexico. Graham has no connections with a Mexican laboratory. The only contact Graham had with Memo was over the phone, when he was trying to assist him with entry into St. Augustine’s. Graham last spoke with Memo on the phone in approximately 1997.’’
Mr. Heredia testified that Mr. Graham strongly encouraged some of his athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs and had personal contact with him, provable by photographs.
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