BALCO owner comes clean

    In late October 2003, an e-mail arrived at The Magazine with an intriguing Yahoo address. It was from Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, which had just been thrust into the headlines as ground zero for steroids and sports. "I'm not the drug kingpin federal agents made me out to be after the recent raid on my lab," Conte wrote.

    Over the next year, more e-mails followed. They turned into phone calls, which turned into a lunch near BALCO's offices in the San Francisco suburb of Burlingame this past September. Conte, who has been charged with 35 counts of steroid distribution and money laundering, was relaxed and funny, telling stories about his earlier life as a jazz musician. But his tone turned harsh when he talked about his legal case, and the numerous leaks of grand jury testimony that were tightening the noose around his neck. His only chance, he said, was to fight back in the press.

    Over two days in November, the 54-year-old Conte sat in a suite at the San Francisco Airport Hyatt Regency hotel, and let it all spill out: how he gave Marion Jones performance-enhancing drugs; how he helped Tim Montgomery become the world's fastest man; how he supplied Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' trainer, with the designer steroid THG. "Did I do things wrong? Yes. Am I the only one? No," says Conte. "The whole system is corrupt. I have too much information to go quietly. They want to expose the real rules? Bring it on"