<
>

BALCO's former top prosecutor says steroids probe may end soon

SAN FRANCISCO -- The former federal prosecutor who oversaw
the government's investigation into alleged performance-enhancing
drug use by Barry Bonds and other professional athletes said Monday
the nearly five-year probe could come to an end "in the
not-too-distant future."

Kevin Ryan declined to elaborate or offer firm dates, but said
that "most of the heavy lifting was done" in the investigation
before he left the office in March as part of the Bush
administration's controversial purge of eight U.S. attorneys across
the country.

"All of the things you're reading about now, the seeds were
planted years ago," he said. But he did note that "it's not my
call anymore."

Ryan's replacement, interim U.S. attorney Scott Schools,
declined comment.

The steroids probe was launched with the raid of the nutritional
supplement company called the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative -- or
BALCO -- in September 2002, two months after Ryan was sworn in as
Northern California's top federal prosecutor. So far, prosecutors
have indicted seven people and won five convictions in the steroids
investigation.

Nonetheless, much of the public attention has been focused on
the government's seemingly endless investigation into whether Bonds
committed perjury when he testified that he never knowingly took
performance-enhancing drugs. He told a grand jury that he believed
a clear substance and a cream given to him by his personal trainer
were flaxseed oil and arthritis balm.

Ryan declined to discuss the Bonds probe directly. But he noted
that prosecutors and investigators had to take time away from the
central focus of the steroids investigation on several occasions to
deal with ancillary issues such as investigating grand jury
testimony leaks to the media, litigating appeals and arguing for
the jailing of Bonds' personal trainer for refusing to testify.

"The case did not progress in the normal fashion," said Ryan,
who's now in private practice at the law firm, Allen Matkins Leck
Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP. "There were just so many offshoots of
it that it required our attention to be focused away from the
primary focus."

Speculation mounted last summer that Bonds would be indicted as
the grand jury looking into the perjury allegations was set to
expire.

Instead, a new grand jury was sworn in to take over the probe.
Its term is set to expire next month, which would effectively end
the Bonds' investigation if no indictment is handed up or a judge
doesn't extend its term for another six months.

Among the convictions won by Ryan's office was against BALCO's
founder, Victor Conte, who pleaded guilty and served four months.

Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, also pleaded guilty to
money laundering and steroids distribution in connection with the
BALCO investigation and spent three months in prison. Anderson was
ordered back to prison in August until he agrees to testify in the
Bonds perjury probe.

Cyclist Tammy Thomas and track coach Trevor Graham each have
pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury and misleading
investigators.