As suspicions of steroid usage gained in volume and as federal investigators doggedly stayed on the case, the defense from his camp never wavered. Barry Bonds never flunked a drug test, they argued.
That argument is no longer valid, or so says the government in a 10-page indictment lodged Thursday against the 43-year-old Bonds. In making a case that Bonds perjured himself when he told a grand jury that he did not knowingly use performance-enhancing drugs, federal attorneys allege in the indictment that they have evidence he has tested positive.
The telling point from the indictment reads: "During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other professional athletes."
According to the indictment, the anabolic steroids were detected in Bonds' system during a November 2000 test. That was almost three years prior to the implementation of a testing program by Major League Baseball. Bonds hit 49 home runs, then a career high, in 2000. The next season, he hit a major league-record 73 home runs.
An attorney familiar with the investigation told ESPN that the government obtained the results of positive steroids tests for Bonds during a search of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), the Burlingame, Calif.-based supplements lab at the center of the steroid scandal. Agents also had access to a storage locker where BALCO clients' files were maintained.
BALCO founder Victor Conte told ESPN.com on Thursday night that the test result likely came from his lab, saying that it was common for the lab to refer samples from athletes for testing. At the time, those tests were performed by Quest Diagnostics outside San Diego.
Three months after the BALCO raid, on Dec. 4, 2003, Bonds testified under a grant of immunity before a federal grand jury in San Francisco. According to the indictment, Bonds was informed of the positive test.
"So, I got to ask, Mr. Bonds," a federal prosecutor said during the grand jury proceedings, according to the indictment, "there's this number associated on a document with your name, and corresponding to Barry B. on the other document, and it does have these two listed anabolic steroids as testing positive in connection with it. Do you follow my question?"
Bonds replied that he did.
"So, I guess I got to ask the question again, I mean, did you take steroids? And specifically this test [in November of 2000]. So, I'm going to ask you in the weeks and months leading up to November 2000, were you taking steroids?"
Bonds responded, "No."
Conte said Thursday evening that he is "very surprised" by the Bonds indictment. He played down any suggestion that the records uncovered at his lab seal the case against baseball's newly crowned home run king.
"There is a serious issue regarding a lack of chain of custody," Conte said. "No test result has anybody's name or initials. All steroid test results performed at BALCO were a number only. Now there were different ledgers with initials and different things that are certainly subject to challenge, but there is no type of steroid panel test result with the name Barry Bonds on it."
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPN investigative reporter T.J. Quinn also contributed to this report.