Late on the morning of Dec. 4, 2003, Barry Bonds arrived at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco and was ushered into the courthouse by the lead investigator in the BALCO steroids case. Bonds was flanked by his lawyer and a bodyguard while cameramen and photographers scrambled to snag a shot of the San Francisco Giants slugger on a day that had been anticipated for months.
Bonds' appearance before the BALCO grand jury represented the climactic moment of a fall that had witnessed some of the world's greatest athletes marching through the doors at 450 Golden Gate Ave., riding an elevator up to the 17th floor and then disappearing into a grand jury room, where, in many cases, they described their explicit use of an array of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
But Bonds, just as he did every time he stepped into the batter's box, went into the grand jury room with a game plan, one that had been foreshadowed by his lawyer, Michael Rains, in the buildup to his client's appearance. Six weeks before the testimony, Rains was asked by the New York Daily News what Bonds would say when asked if he had taken steroids. Rains said his client would respond, "Well, I didn't know it at the time."
Through three hours of sometimes meandering testimony, Bonds stuck with that message, providing responses such as, "Not that I know of," or "I don't recall," or dismissing his steroid use by saying that his trainer, Greg Anderson, "rubbed some cream on my arm" but never told Bonds it was illegal.
The prosecutors weren't buying, repeatedly pressing Bonds for answers, their voices tinged with sarcasm as they asked how he could have taken drugs without knowing what they were.
At the end of the three hours, prosecutors had pages worth of testimony filled with Bonds' denials. They had showed him Anderson's doping calendars coded with the initials "BB," and informed him about a drug test he had taken in November 2000 that showed he tested positive for testosterone. Bonds never wavered. He said he never used steroids. He never took human growth hormone. Anderson never provided him with
performance-enhancers and Bonds was never injected with steroids.
Like the other athletes who had testified before him, Bonds had signed a document that said he would give truthful testimony, no matter how damaging, and in return he would be immune from prosecution. After all, he wasn't the target in the investigation, he was only a witness against the men accused of steroid trafficking.
Had Bonds simply admitted to using "the cream" and "the clear," as others like the Yankees' Jason Giambi did, he might have suffered only embarrassment when details of his testimony appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. But from the first of his denials,
government prosecutors were convinced Bonds was lying, and a federal grand jury agreed, returning an indictment Thursday on four counts of perjury and one of obstructing justice.
Until news of the indictment spread, public speculation about the case was limited to the dribs and drabs of information that had emerged. Rains and BALCO founder Victor Conte insisted the U.S. Attorney had no case or he would have brought charges much earlier. With Anderson in prison for refusing to testify against his friend, conventional wisdom held that he must be crucial to the government's case; if the trainer could finish the length of the grand jury's term without spilling, Bonds was safe.
But while Rains, as he has since 2003, railed against the government and proclaimed Bonds' innocence Thursday, the government offered the first glimpse of a case rooted in "a mountain of evidence," as prosecutors once said in court papers.
Conventional wisdom, it turns out, was wrong.
The item that jumped from the 10-page indictment was the revelation of "positive tests for the presence of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances by Bonds and other professional athletes." The positive tests stem from work-ups performed on Bonds' blood and urine samples through BALCO, and if corroborated could be a damaging blow to Bonds' defense.
Already Rains has challenged whether the tests prove anything, but the previously undisclosed evidence was the first glimpse of the material the government has been secretly compiling against Bonds for almost four years.
That process began in early 2005, about a year after Bonds' testimony, as the conspiracy case against BALCO's Conte, Anderson and two other men was winding its way though the system. The government began to focus on bringing a perjury case against Bonds, and prosecutors' first witness was Kimberly Bell, Bonds' former girlfriend, who testified to the grand jury in March 2005 that Bonds had admitted he began using steroids in 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle previously reported.
From that point forward, lead agent Jeff Novitzky of the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation's division sought further evidence in building a case against Bonds. Anderson was subpoenaed to testify, but he refused and was sent to prison on a contempt charge.
Then-U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan was overseeing the probe, and by the summer of 2006, prosecutors and other officials were convinced that, even without Anderson's testimony, there was ample evidence to seek an indictment, and that Ryan would push for one.
As it became clear, however, that Ryan might not be ready to pull the trigger, officials with the IRS and the FBI began lobbying the Justice Department in Washington for an indictment, according to the book, "Game of Shadows."
It didn't work.
Even though Rains told Bonds to expect an indictment, Ryan instead decided to empanel a new grand jury, extending the case and dooming Anderson to more than another year in prison. Anderson's attorney, celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, said Anderson would receive no payment for his silence and would take his prison sentence "like a man." They felt the government had double-crossed the trainer.
The prosecutors initially had tried to get Anderson to cut a deal in which he named names, but he had refused. The government made the deal anyway, and after Anderson pleaded guilty to steroid distribution and spent three months in prison, he thought he was
free from having to testify further.
This summer, as the second grand jury's term came to a close, Rains predicted the government would dismiss the grand jury without an indictment. Sources close to the
investigation, however, said at the time that Rains was wrong.
Witnesses the public never heard about had provided testimony that prosecutors felt was damning, and the government was already confident in the case. Two attorneys close to the investigation told the New York Daily News at the time that the government had sought and received a six-month extension but planned to postpone grand jury testimony about Bonds until September at the earliest while they pursued other matters. One of those matters was Marion Jones, who tearfully pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in
October after years of fervent, unqualified denials.
The sources said the government intended to seek an indictment of Bonds next and were confident the grand jury would return one.
Nearly four years to the day after Bonds entered the grand jury room, he will return to the federal courthouse to be arraigned. Six years after he obliterated the single-season home run record once held by the now-disgraced Mark McGwire, and just three months after he passed Hank Aaron to become the game's all-time home run leader, Bonds' already-teetering legacy has taken a full body shot.
MLB officials told ESPN's investigative unit that they think Bonds' career is over and they won't even bother to suspend him. Rains' predictions, Bonds' protestations and public speculation have become meaningless. If Bonds pleads guilty, he probably will go to prison. If he decides to fight, then his freedom will depend on what the government can prove, and what he and Rains can do to convince a jury and a skeptical world of his innocence.
Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn are investigative reporters for ESPN. Fainaru-Wada co-authored "Game of Shadows" with Lance Williams. Quinn has reported extensively on BALCO and steroids.