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.