BALCO founder Conte released from prison

SAN MATEO, Calif. -- BALCO founder Victor Conte insisted Thursday that he never gave performance-enhancing drugs to Barry Bonds and that a new book that makes those claims is "full of outright lies."

Conte spoke to The Associated Press outside his San Mateo home hours after his release from prison, where he spent four months after pleading guilty to orchestrating an illegal steroids distribution scheme that allegedly involved many high-profile athletes, including Bonds.

Asked whether he gave Bonds performance-enhancing drugs, Conte said: "No, I did not."

A new book, "Game of Shadows," by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, chronicles the founding of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and details alleged extensive steroid use by Bonds and other baseball stars. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced Thursday that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell will lead an investigation into the claims.

"I plan to provide evidence in the near future to prove that much of what is written in the book is untrue," Conte told the AP. He declined to list specific inaccuracies or what evidence he would provide but said the book is "about the character assassination of Barry Bonds and myself."

"It's my opinion that the two writers of the book have a disease called fabrication-itis," Conte said, holding a copy of "Game of Shadows" as he stood on his front steps.

The book's authors, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, were on an airplane Thursday and not available for comment.

Lisa Johnson, a spokeswoman for Gotham Books, which published "Game of Shadows," did not immediately return a call from the AP.

"We stand by the reporting that Mark and Lance did throughout this story and in all the stories that were published in the paper," said Chronicle executive vice president and editor Phil Bronstein. "And if and when Mr. Conte speaks further about this, I'm sure we'll report about that as well."

Conte was picked up by his family after his 5:30 a.m. release from Taft Correctional Institution, about 40 miles southwest of Bakersfield, according to spokeswoman Mandy Ruff.

About five hours later, Conte arrived at his green two-story house in San Mateo, about 20 miles south of San Francisco, in a white sports utility vehicle with darkened windows.

Wearing blue jeans, a red sweat shirt and a baseball cap, Conte said "it feels great" to be out of prison. He said prison was "like a men's retreat," during which he read, gave music lessons to fellow inmates, coached a sprinting team and participated in a debate about steroids.

Conte founded and managed the Burlingame-based BALCO, where the steroids were sold. He pleaded guilty to money laundering and a steroid distribution charge, and dozens of other charges were dropped as part of his plea deal.

Conte was sentenced in October to four months in prison and four months' home confinement in a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Baseball investigators could seek to interview Conte about steroid use in the game.

Bonds, who has denied using steroids, was the most prominent athlete linked to BALCO. He testified in December 2003 to the federal grand jury investigating the case but has not been charged with a crime.

Other baseball players linked to BALCO include New York Yankees stars Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield.

Olympic track and field stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery and former NFL player Bill Romanowski were also called to testify in front of the grand jury. No athletes were charged in the scheme.

Greg Anderson, Bonds' personal trainer, was sentenced to three months behind bars and an additional three months of home confinement after pleading guilty to money laundering and a steroid distribution charge.

BALCO vice president James Valente was sentenced to three years' probation, and track coach Remi Korchemny received a year of probation.