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Conte in court on steroid charges

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U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announces indictments for alleged steroid sales to professional athletes. CNN's Josie Burke reports (February 12)
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Victor Conte and three other men accused of distributing steroids to top athletes pleaded innocent to federal charges Friday in San Francisco and were allowed to go free.

They are facing a 42-count U.S grand jury indictment over the creation and distribution of the "designer steroid" tetrahydrogestrinone.

The performance-enhancing drug was found in tests on British runner Dwain Chambers, four U.S. athletes and four American football players.

During a 14-minute hearing each man -- including baseball star Barry Bonds' nutritional guru and his personal trainer -- pleaded innocent before Federal Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James. They were released on their own recognizance, pending a hearing on Feb. 27 to set bail.

Government lawyers said they will seek a $100,000 bond, and the four defendants have until the hearing to prove they can provide that amount.

No names of athletes involved were mentioned in the indictments, which cover a period from December of 2001 to last September.

But such sport heroes as Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, Shane Mosley, baseball star Barry Bonds and Amy Van Dyken have testified before the grand jury.

The indictments revealed by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft targeted Conte, president of BALCO Labs, BALCO vice president James Valente, track coach Remi Korchemny and Greg Anderson, Bonds' personal trainer.

A trial on the charges could lead to the naming of dozens of sports stars as doping cheats.

"Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them but also the integrity of the sports those athletes play," Ashcroft said.

"Steroids are bad for sports, bad for players, bad for the young people who hold athletes up as role models."

The four indicted men all live in the San Francisco area where BALCO is located and face charges of running a racket that distributed once-untraceable doping substances, including human growth hormone and anabolic steroids.

THG was not uncovered until an unidentified athletics coach gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a sample of the substance. US anti-doping officials named Conte as the maker, a claim Conte has denied.

Anderson is charged with buying illegal steroids from Conte and distributing them to U.S. professional athletes while Korchemny allegedly did the same for those in athletics.

Korchemny is the coach of Chambers and Kelli White, an American who won the 100 and 200 meters at the World Championships last year in Paris but tested positive for modafinil.

Future offenders face lifetime bans

The revelation of THG and doping positives from retroactive tests led USA Track and Field to adopt lifetime bans for all future positive steroid tests in December.

Charges cite six separate instances in which illegal steroids and human-growth hormones were distributed to athletes, all of them in ways aimed at making them undectable to Olympic or sports league's dope testing methods.

Ashcroft said the defendents distributed a testosterone-based cream. The mixture aimed at concealing an athlete's elevated testosterone level from existing dope testing technology.

Also distributed by those involved was "The Clear", a liquid drug that Ashcroft said produced "steroid-like effects without causing the athlete to test positive for steroids." That substance proved to be THG.

The indictment alleges the conspirators gave athletes phony cover stories to provide authorities, citing an e-mail attributed to Conte in which he instructed a coach to refer to drugs only by initials.

Conte and the others allegedly laundered proceeds from illegal steroid sales by placing the money in personal bank accounts.

Citing U.S. President George Bush's anti-steroid message in last month's State of the Union speech, Ashcroft vowed to prosecute steroid makers and distributors to the fullest extent of the law.

"This is not just a call to action. It is a call to the values that make our nation and it's people strong and free," Ashcroft said. "Nothing does more to diminish our potential as individuals and a nation than drug abuse."

Ashcroft joined Bush's call for a coordinated effort to police steroids between league officials, club owners and players in team sports as well as individuals in individual sports.

The biggest American sports name linked to BALCO was Bonds, who hit a record 73 home runs in 2001 for the San Francisco Giants and was a supporter of Conte's nuritional supplement programs.

Major League Baseball will begin mandatory steroid testing this season after more than five percent of players tested positive in a trial program last season.

Four members of the National Football League's Oakland Raiders failed steroid tests as well.

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