Notebook > Sports

Loose lips

Sports | Judge rejects plea agreement for former BALCO attorney

Issue: "The 2007 Books Issue," June 30, 2007

To the extent San Francisco Examiner reporters Mark Fainura-Wada and Lance Williams enjoy the next 18 months, they'll have disgraced attorney Troy Ellerman to thank. Ellerman, who exposed himself on Feb. 14 as the reporters' source for Barry Bonds' grand jury steroids testimony, lost a plea deal on June 14. To get at the source of the leak in the grand jury investigation, a judge had threatened the two reporters with a year and a half in prison each for not divulging their source. The secrecy of grand jury testimony is protected by law.

Once a lawyer for BALCO founder Victor Conte, Ellerman allowed Fainura-Wada in 2004 to take word-for-word notes on the transcripts of grand jury testimony by Bonds, baseball players Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi, and sprinter Tim Montgomery. The subsequent newspaper reports ostensibly outed Bonds and Sheffield as dopers. Quotes from Giambi and Montgomery reveal they knew they were taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The grand jury revelations have titillated (or enraged) baseball fans as Bonds fast approaches Hank Aaron's record of 755 career home runs. For many, the grand jury testimony of Bonds only served to confirm what was self-evident: The San Francisco Giants slugger cheated his way to at least some of his 700-plus homers. The leaks might have had an even larger effect on New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi. The FBI investigation and subsequent leaked testimony ratcheted up pressure and attention on Giambi who, unlike Bonds, can't seem to keep his mouth shut. In a May 16 interview with USA Today, Giambi apologized for using steroids, but would not say why he used them. Smelling blood, baseball commissioner Bud Selig ordered Giambi to spill his story before baseball's investigation squad headed by former Senate leader George Mitchell or face disciplinary action.

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When Ellerman admitted in February to leaking the explosive story, he and prosecutors had agreed to a plea bargain whereby he would serve up to two years in prison for perpetrating the leak. But U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White nullified the deal, saying Ellerman should be held to a higher standard. If convicted of all the charges, Ellerman could face up to 15 years in prison: a high price for helping to break the biggest sports scandal in the United States since the Black Sox.

Prosecution rests

Nifong forced to resign over botched case

Former Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong couldn't leave his job soon enough for a judge who ruled on June 18 that his botched prosecution of rape charges against Duke lacrosse players and subsequent disbarment meant he had to leave immediately.

In March 2006, a young female stripper came forward and accused members of Duke's lacrosse team of raping her during a party where she was paid to perform. By May, Nifong had indicted three players on rape charges. Problem: The arrests and charges came after all the white members (the accuser, a black woman, said her assailants were white) volunteered DNA samples and after tests seemed to prove that none of the lacrosse players in fact raped her. Then, as the three accused players' alibis began to check out and the stripper's story unraveled, pressure began to mount on Nifong. Ethics charges hit the prosecutor beginning in December 2006-just as he concluded a successful run for district attorney. By January he had recused himself from the case and by April, all criminal charges against the three lacrosse players had been dropped.

The scandal that erupted effectively ended the team's season and cost the head coach his job. For the players, many of whom have had unjust damage to their reputations, one lesson still remains: No good can come from hiring a stripper.

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