Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones: Vol. 42

Story by Eric.

This is the 42nd submission in a long series about Marion Jones, a former elite sprinter who won honour and earned endorsements, fame and fortune by method of fraud. This series continues with the Victor Conte story, one which categorically ties Marion Jones to steroids.

Though parts of this section may be historical in nature, its inclusion is relevant to the sum of the whole.

Physical, non-circumstantial evidence [1] collected at the BALCO site during a police raid adequately supported claims Conte made during the investigation regarding dissemination and distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to athletes – including Conte’s admission of providing Gatlin drugs among those bullet-pointed in volumn 41. A government official familiar with the BALCO raid verified the information about Marion Jones, and two other knowledgeable sources said they were told Marion Jones got drugs through Conte. Some of the athletes themselves – including White – had stated that they had had connections to Conte.

Conte, through an admission of his own words, stated on “20/20”:

I think she [Marion Jones] made her decision and she's going to have to be accountable to the consequences of her decision... If she said she didn't use drugs, then she lied.[2]

Marion Jones did lie, and wants to be held less accountable for her actions than she should.

Conte also had the following interaction with correspondent Bashir during that hour-long segment of “20/20”, as heard on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, Saturday, 2004-December-4:

Bashir: “Are you saying that Marion Jones was a drugs cheat?
Conte: “Without a doubt.
Bashir: “Do you admit to devising her programme for drug use?
Conte: “Yes, I do.

And the missing link to an immediate Marion Jones inquiry?

Answer: Court testimony – that stark form of evidence which could have been obtained from Conte in the form of a solemn avowal of a declaration of fact.

Conte said in a distributed statement outside the court room after sentencing that he had decided not to talk about the athletes or their involvements in the BALCO scandal, as in most cases, the athletes were “good people, who came from good families and they’ve already suffered greatly.”[3]

Conte escaped having to testify after a plea bargain for conspiracy to distribute illegal steroids through BALCO – and for money laundering – was accepted by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston at the sentencing hearing on 2005-10-18. Conte also escaped an earlier push by USADA to have him testify before the CAS’s binding hearing over Tim Montgomery when the CAS court refused to have Conte subpoenaed. The banned drugs found were minimal, and the laundering amount was for part of a $2.100 check.

Barry Bonds’ attorney, Michael Rains, stated on Wednesday, 2006-December-13 of the transition to a “Phase III” in the BALCO case:

If this is phase three, why not indict Barry? The simple answer -- they need the testimony of Greg Anderson.”[4]

Apparently, they didn’t, as Bonds was indicted on what the U.S. government stated it had in terms of evidence that Bonds lied to the Grand Jury and failed a drug test at the BALCO laboratory.

The principle held true with Marion Jones and Victor Conte as well. There was no direct testimony from the mouth of the person who was in the know – a fact which angered Dick Pound, who stated “If we don't get a chance to pursue other allegations with his full cooperation it's a cop-out on a cosmic scale,” upon learning of Conte’s plea agreement. [5]

Conte did cop-out on not bringing the deception show which was Marion Jones on spikes, but Trevor Graham’s own legal troubles left the door open to nab Marion Jones.

Consequently, Pound and Conte were able to meet on 2007-December-12 following a Conte letter sent to WADA explaining what he believed to be wrong with today’s testing procedures and having offered tips on how to improve testing processes.

We talked about the macro and systemic problems and his perspective on that, his thoughts on how we could get better at what we do,” Pound said. “I think we'll probably stay in touch. We'll try to build up a relationship where he'll have confidence in me using the information he has in the right way. We'll try to get a better handle on what he knows directly and what he knows as having been part of an overall operation.[6]

Conte served a four-month prison sentence as register number 93388-011 at Taft Correctional Institute – a fence-less minimum-security prison located roughly 64 kilometres outside of Bakersfield, CA, and served the concurrent four-month sentence in a home-detention setting. The corrections facility has 464 beds, and is operated by the City of Taft. Conte was initially scheduled to begin his sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater, CA with a report-to date 2005-December-1, and was released to home confinement on 2006-March-30.

The money-laundering charges carried a maximum 20-year term for Conte, the conspiracy charge a five-year stint in prison.

Conte was found guilty on 2005-October-16 of violating 21:§§846 and 841(b)(1)(D) CR-04-0044, the nature of offence which is Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess w/Intent to Distribute Anabolic Steroids – an offence which ended September 2003; and violating 18:§1956(a)(1)(A)(I) CR-05-0455, the nature of offence which is Money Laundering – an offence which ended June 2003. [7]

The manner and means by which the money laundering was carried out included concealing illegal proceeds from an unlawful activity by segregating proceeds derived from performance-enhancing drug sales from normal, regular business proceeds by placing the criminal proceeds into a personal bank account, and utilising a third-party person to negotiate checks written as payment for the purchase of the performance-enhancing drugs, rather than depositing the checks as normal business proceeds.

The manner and means by which the conspiracy to distribute and possess was carried out included intentionally misleading, defrauding and dispensing “the clear” to consumers without a valid prescription from a licensed practitioner – resulting in “the clear” being misbranded while held for sale, after shipment in interstate commerce. [8]

Conte’s plea-bargain deal included two-years probation and a fine, and the avoidance of a trial – meaning no witness testimony by – or against – Marion Jones, among others suspected in what would have been a 2005-September-6 trial date.

It also meant that Federal indictment counts 2-23, 25-28, 30-33, 36-39 against him were dismissed on the motion of the United States.

Conte was ordered to pay a $200 restitution charge – due immediately, and was penalised a $10.000 fine.

The court made special arrangements for payments to be made during his incarceration.

The United States government stated that while incarcerated, Victor Conte’s payment of his criminal monetary penalties were to be paid during his imprisonment at the rate of not less than $25.00 per quarter through the BOP Inmate Financial Responsibility Program.

There was no call on Conte to pay the cost of the prosecution. There was no two-year suspension from his work with earnings made during his illegal affairs forced to be paid back as is often the case with the athletes who were taking his drugs. There was no motion to pay for court costs, and Victor Conte did not even have to forfeit property interest to the United States.

Conte essentially skated free minus some quiet time with minor thugs, and save a criminal rap sheet. One doesn’t assume Conte will need to apply for work outside of his SNAC business anytime soon – especially if the $190.000 Bentley he owns which was parked outside of the office when the Associated Press visited him in April 2007 is any indication.

Ok, so paying the cost of monitoring at the prevailing rate, and having had to ask for advanced permission to leave his residence at all times except for activities which had been pre-approved by his probation officer – including employment, education, religious services, medical, substance abuse, or mental health treatment, attorney visits, court appearances, or court ordered obligations – couldn’t have been the most fun Conte had ever had. He was not even permitted – during the term of home confinement – to drink a Martini after a hard day’s work between reading the newspaper and watching a ballgame on TV.

And that bit about the defendant, Conte, having been required to cooperate in the collection of DNA as directed by the probation officer could have been a bit personal.

Conte, holding a golden chalice sacred to many an athlete, would win in the form of testimony – or lack of it – while opting to sit out in detention for four months in the huskow – a place which Conte said served Starbuck’s coffee, and felt like a men’s retreat. A penny fine for a millionaire, a monthly heart-to-heart with an over-worked parole officer more worried about murderers breaking parole than a money launderer, and four months of holiday in the home was the legal punishment the architect of the greatest drugs scam in history received for his misdeeds.

The first day I woke up and I walked out and saw this big sign. I looked and it said, ‘tennis,’ ‘basketball,’ ‘racquetball,’ ‘softball,’ ‘soccer,’ ‘horseshoes,’ ‘bocce ball.’ And I looked around and there's 500 guys at the camp, and it's between a mountain range out there, a very beautiful setting, and they have all these organized team sports. There’s a team over here playing soccer, a group over here playing flag football, a group over here playing softball, several tennis courts, bocce ball, volleyball, like a big recreation center, almost like a university campus setting.”[9]

The only requirements placed on the incarcerated 56-year-old white male when he entered the Bureau of Prisons was to participate in the institution’s Admissions and Orientation programme to learn his rights and responsibilities, the institution’s programme opportunities, and that pesky little part about the institution’s disciplinary system should Conte ever need to know that. He was allotted two long-distance telephone calls during the admission, and was likely told to do his time well and go home.

Conte’s co-counsel, Ed Swanson told the San Jose Mercury News in an article dated 2005-July-14 that Conte’s plea agreement did not require Conte to cooperate with federal agents in their ongoing investigations, thus, by nature, providing more breathing room to those who may have been waiting for that fateful day of witnessing.

We are pleased with the terms of the agreement and believe it represents a fair result in this case.[10]

How pleased they were with the California Department of Health Services, which fined Conte and Dr. Goldman a grand total of $772.170 – the largest fine ever levied against a licensed laboratory in California – is not known.

The original result sought by Conte’s counsel was a dropping of all charges, a sentencing to probation only, and a plea agreement to cooperate with the Federal government in catching drug cheats.

Covered underneath that blanket of secrecy was Marion Jones, waiting apprehensively for word of whether this would have turned into a public trial, as she would have indisputably been called to answer for inconsistencies between her Grand Jury deposition and the truths which were amounting from the “liars” who had accused her.

Said Conte of the entire BALCO affair to Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian, who interviewed Conte in Burlingame in May 2007:

Let me say the unknown is the scariest place you can be and when you have got the prosecutorial might of the United States, and every single alphabet organisation that exists in the country coming after you and then you have got the media telling everyone the government has caught the equivalent of a 30ft shark while you are trying to tell your family it's really just a 2in minnow and then I had to change attorney mid-stream and once I got some good legal counsel and they were able to get a tape measure up against the fish and it turns out to be a minnow,” he says when asked what it was like to be caught up in the Balco scandal.

Then when the US attorney general stood on the steps of the White House said that I was a modern day Al Capone character people could not understand why, on the day I was indicted [charged] I did the double biceps pose outside the courtroom and smiled. I did that because I knew what the real evidence was.[11]

The guilty verdict, and the avoidance of trial, meant Marion Jones would not have to testify in an open court and be forced, under oath, to repeat her secret Grand Jury testimony in unshielded – testimony which was certain to have not been in alignment with those of Conte’s, and several witnesses – including Hunter and Montgomery.

She wouldn’t have to account for her transgressions until Graham’s trial opened the door for the same opportunity, namely for Marion Jones to be forced, under oath, to repeat her Grand Jury testimony without the shield of the law at her side. As we are all fully aware, she never permitted that to happen, opting instead to confess of lesser evils before being forced to answer to greater transgressions with greater stakes and more medals to return.

Life for Conte has been relatively unchanged over the entire affair, he says; Conte has “learned how turn this lemon into lemonade”.

A $10.000 fine for a millionaire, a monthly pow-wow with an over-worked parole officer more worried about murderers breaking parole than a money launderer, and four months of holiday in the home was the legal punishment the architect of the greatest drugs scam in history received for his misdeeds.

James Valente, the vice president of BALCO who also was convicted in the case, kept SNAC alive, and provided Conte with a way of paying his excessively expensive legal bills - up to $500.000, says Conte in an interview with the New York Daily News. SNAC has been selling approximately 100.000 units/month of legal zinc-magnesium-vitamin B6 compound, according to Conte – something he says continues to make him a wealthy man.

Conte has continued offering supplements to interested parties in a renovated space where BALCO once occupied space; he is operating business around the side of the building. He states he has no interest in connecting any more dots to the BALCO-related athletes, saying it would be bad for business.

From this point forward I have no interest in causing any damage to the athletes connected to BALCO,” he says. They were doing what they needed to compete in sports that were hopelessly stained with drugs, that continue to be stained with drugs that easily avoid the world's best testing, he says. Causing damage to those athletes would also be bad for business. [12]

One is assured, therefore, that Marion Jones will never be connected to Conte through Conte, himself, in the form of witness testimony – though Conte stated in the above-referenced article that he was born to tell the truth; Conte’s accounts would have confirmed, supported and strengthened other circumstantial evidences collected against Marion Jones.

Conte’s counsel commented after the verdict that Conte had diligently worked with requests to cooperate during the process, and had been honest.

However, Conte’s truth-telling parade was believed to have crossed over more legal boundaries than Marion Jones’s lawsuit and settlement case against him.

The United States Federal government set a motion into place in 2004 to uncover the source of leaks from Grand Jury testimony – a jury which had been meeting weekly, on Thursdays, on the 17th floor of the Federal Court House in San Francisco – to San Francisco Chronicle reporters.

Conte was a continued suspect in this case until the San Jose Mercury News reported on Thursday, 2006-December-21, that Troy Ellerman, was being investigated by the FBI.

We do have an investigation on those allegations that he (Ellerman) was responsible for the leak,” FBI spokesman Joe Schadler told the Associated Press. [13]

Ellerman is reported to have initiated an aborted attempt to relocate the ProRodeo Hall of Fame from Colorado Springs to New Mexico (and later quit as its commissioner – a post he assumed in 2005-January). He is also under the gun for reportedly having cut off the Colorado Springs-based Women's Professional Rodeo Association from a major rodeo event in 2006, a development that contributed to the women's organization filing a lawsuit against the PRCA. [14]

Larry McCormack, reported by The New York Times [15] as having done initial investigative work for Conte in the early stages of the BALCO case, is a former executive director of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame where Ellerman serves as Commissioner of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. McCormack was fired from the post early in 2006 – one which Ellerman helped him get. McCormack, acting on the advice of his attorney, apparently contacted the FBI sometime in September, stating that Ellerman gave the confidential information to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in 2004.

Federal prosecutors had requested a two-year prison sentence for Ellerman for leaking the confidential information and then for subsequently lying about it under oath. They stated that Ellerman had significantly impaired their ability to fully conduct their on-going investigation of the BALCO case and indict accordingly.

U.S. District Judge White rejected the initial plea agreement, declaring that Ellerman had “corrupted several different aspects of the criminal justice system,”[16] and refused to be bound by the agreements agreed upon by the prosecution and defense teams. White did reconsider his rejection of the plea agreement, and, on 2007-July-12, ordered Ellerman to 30 months’ prison – 22 more than Victor Conte, who was part of the reason Ellerman was ever involved in the BALCO litigation – and a requirement to give 10 speeches to law students – down considerably from the $250.000 Federal prosecutors had earlier agreed upon and the a $60.000 fine believed that White would assess in the sentencing (Rule 11(c)(1) (C)).


[1]“Approximately 50 pages of evidence confiscated by the IRS from Conte and BALCO are thought to pertain to Jones, including a suspected doping calendar, ledgers and reports that appear to reflect private lab screenings for steroids and a $7,350 check to Conte drawn on a Jones bank account.” San Francisco Chronicle, 2004-06-01 [2] ABC television programme “20/20”, 2004-12-03 [3] San Francisco Chronicle, “BALCO’s Conte, Barry Bonds’ trainer sentenced,” 2005-10-28 [4] San Jose Mercury News, “Cyclist faces perjury charge in Balco probe,” 2006-12-15 [5] The Guardian, “Pound Angered By Conte Deal”, 2005-07-18 [6] Associated Press, “Conte, Pound meet in Manhattan”, 2007-12-13 [7] United States of America v Victor Conte, Jr, CR04-44 and CR05-455, Judgment in a criminal case [8] United States of America v Victor Conte, Jr, Northern District of CA, San Francisco Division [9] The Fresno Bee, “Conte’s chatter flows naturally,” 2007-08-17 [10] San Jose Mercury News, ”Lab founder Conte cuts deal, faces jail”, 2005-07-14 [11] The Guardian, “The sheer brass neck of sport’s most tarnished bad penny”, 2007-05-30 [12] New York Daily News, “Conte muscles back,” 2006-09-24 [13] San Jose Mercury News, “FBI looks at lawyer as leak in Balco case”, 2006-12-21 [14] The Colorado Springs Independent Newsweekly, “’Roid Range”, 2006-12-28
[15] The New York Times, “Lawyer Is Focus in Balco Leaks”, 2006-12-22 [16] ESPN, “BALCO plea rejected”, 2007-06-14

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