BALCO leak source pleads guilty to obstructing justice

SAN FRANCISCO -- A Colorado lawyer pleaded guilty Thursday
to obstructing justice by leaking secret grand jury documents to
two reporters covering the government's probe of steroids in

Troy Ellerman could be sent to prison for as long as two years
and fined up to $250,000 for the convictions. His sentencing was
scheduled for June 14.

The 44-year-old Ellerman also could lose his license to practice

He entered the plea in U.S. District Court the day after federal
prosecutors announced he struck a deal that would prevent two San
Francisco Chronicle reporters from going to jail for refusing to
divulge their source.

Prosecutor Douglas Miller said the plea concludes the
government's investigation of the leaks and the subpoenas of the
Chronicle's Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams were withdrawn.

In court papers filed Wednesday, Ellerman said he allowed
Williams and Fainaru-Wada to view transcripts of the grand jury
testimony of baseball stars Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary
Sheffield and sprinter Tim Montgomery.

Eve Burton, general counsel for Hearst Corp., which owns the
Chronicle, would not confirm or deny that Ellerman was the source
of the leaked documents. The reporters also declined to discuss
their source.

Ellerman, of Woodland Park, Colo., briefly represented Victor
Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, the
Burlingame-based supplements lab that allegedly provided
performance-enhancing drugs to the elite athletes. He later
represented BALCO vice president James Valente and that's when he
obtained transcripts of the athletes' testimony from federal

"I find the fact that Troy Ellerman has admitted to leaking the
BALCO grand jury transcripts to be outrageous," Conte said in an
e-mail to The Associated Press.

Ellerman signed agreements with prosecutors and was under court
orders to keep the grand jury testimony confidential. Ellerman even
made a motion in October 2004 to dismiss the case against Valente
because of "repeated government leaks of confidential information
to the media."

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said Ellerman's behavior
was an "abuse of our system of justice."

"Such gamesmanship undermines the integrity of the legal system
and demands accountability," he said.

Valente, Conte and three other men have pleaded guilty to
steroids-related charges in an earlier phase of the investigation.

The Chronicle published stories in 2004 that reported Giambi and
Montgomery admitted to grand jurors that they took steroids, while
Bonds and Sheffield testified they didn't knowingly take the drugs.

Shortly after the first leak in June 2004, Judge Susan Illston
ordered an investigation. Ellerman and all lawyers in the case
filed statements under penalty of perjury swearing that they
weren't the source.

Prosecutors said a "previously unknown witness" approached the
FBI and offered to help prove that Ellerman was the source. Larry
McCormack, former executive director of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
and a private investigator who briefly worked for Conte, told the
AP on Wednesday that he tipped off FBI agents.

McCormack said he shared a Sacramento office with Ellerman and
that Fainaru-Wada visited there several times in 2004. McCormack
said Ellerman told him about the leaks.

In February 2005, McCormack moved to Colorado Springs, Colo. to
work for Ellerman, who then served as commissioner of the
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

The association's board of directors fired McCormack in August,
but he said Ellerman tried to save his job and his decision to call
federal investigators and expose the lawyer had nothing to do with
his firing.

"My concerns were whether I could be in any kind of criminal
jeopardy," said McCormack, a former Yuba County sheriff's deputy.
"Another thing that was bothering me was that the government was
spending all of this money on the investigations and these
reporters are looking at going to prison -- it ate me alive."

Shortly after McCormack was fired, he said he wore an FBI wire
and had a "heated conversation" with Ellerman in which the lawyer
made incriminating statements. McCormack declined to discuss the
details of that conversation.

San Francisco U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan said the plea deal should
end speculation that his office was a source of the leaks.

"I've maintained from the beginning that neither the agents nor
the federal prosecutors involved in the BALCO case were the source
of any grand jury leaks," he said.

Besides Conte and Valente, chemist Patrick Arnold, Bonds'
personal trainer Greg Anderson, and track coach Remi Korchemny have
all pleaded guilty in the BALCO probe. Korchemny and Valente were
sentenced to probation and the others were each sentenced to jail
terms no longer than four months.

Bonds has never been charged but suspicion continues to dog the
San Francisco Giants slugger as he chases baseball's career home
run record.

He told the grand jury he thought Anderson had given him
flaxseed oil and arthritic balm, rather than the BALCO steroids
known as "The Clear" and "The Cream." A federal grand jury is
investigating him for possible perjury and obstruction of justice