Clemens indicted for drug denials

Ex-Sox star faces 6 counts over testimony to Congress

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By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / August 20, 2010

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Former Red Sox great Roger Clemens, his legacy as imperiled as baseball’s integrity by the steroid scandal, was indicted yesterday on multiple charges of lying to Congress when he denied plying himself with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Baseball’s all-time leader with seven Cy Young Awards, William Roger Clemens was charged by a federal grand jury with one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements, and two counts of perjury stemming from his sworn testimony in 2008 before a House committee investigating baseball’s steroid era.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Clemens, 48, could face 15 to 21 months in prison if convicted. The maximum sentence would be 30 years and a $1.5 million fine.

Clemens joins home run king Barry Bonds and former American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Tejada as the only major leaguers charged with crimes connected to the steroid crisis. He is accused of lying when he denied illegally injecting anabolic steroids while playing for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998 and New York Yankees in 2000 and 2001.

The Rocket, as he became known during a Cooperstown-caliber 24-year career, is charged with making 14 other false statements, including denying he illegally ingested human growth hormone in 2001. He effectively was charged with lying throughout his congressional testimony and a sworn deposition eight days earlier.

“Our government cannot function if witnesses are not held accountable for false statements made before Congress,’’ said Ronald C. Machen Jr., US attorney for the District of Columbia. “Today the message is clear: If a witness ignores his or her responsibility to testify honestly, there will be consequences.’’

Clemens has steadfastly denied using performance enhancers, as he did repeatedly under oath before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee called the hearing after a 2007 report by former US senator George L. Mitchell detailed damaging information about more than 80 major leaguers, including Clemens, during the decades-long steroid epidemic in baseball.

“Let me be clear,’’ Clemens told the House panel, “I have never taken steroids or HGH.’’

With his denials, Clemens “did corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct, and impede’’ the House investigation, the grand jury alleged in a 19-page indictment.

Clemens yielded no ground despite the indictment.

“I never took HGH or steroids. And I never lied to Congress,’’ he said on Twitter. “I look forward to challenging the government’s accusations, and hope people will keep an open mind until trial. I appreciate all the support I have been getting. I am happy to finally have my day in court. Rocket.’’

His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, told a news conference that Clemens expected the indictment after he rejected a plea offer from prosecutors.

The charges provide a measure of exoneration for the government’s chief witness against Clemens, his former strength coach Brian McNamee. Federal agents ensnared McNamee in their investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, which led to the convictions of several elite athletes and a perjury indictment against Bonds. His trial is scheduled to begin March 21.

McNamee, who agreed to cooperate with investigators and Mitchell, testified under penalty of perjury that he injected Clemens four times with steroids in 1998, four to six times with steroids and human growth hormone in 2000, and four to five times with steroids in 2001.

Clemens accused McNamee of lying and sued him for defamation. A Texas court dismissed the case, and a federal appeals panel last week upheld the dismissal.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s vindication,’’ McNamee’s lawyer, Earl Ward, said of the indictment.

Leaders of the House committee at the time expressed no sympathy for Clemens.

“When a witness, such as Roger Clemens, lies, as I think he did, he should be held accountable,’’ said Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who chaired the panel.

The committee’s former Republican leader, Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, described the indictment as “a self-inflicted wound’’ by Clemens. Davis said Clemens appeared voluntarily before the committee, saying he wanted to clear his name after the Mitchell report. Davis said he warned Clemens, “Whatever you do, don’t lie.’’

In addition to allegedly lying about his involvement with steroids and HGH, Clemens is charged with falsely testifying that he was injected with vitamin B-12 and lidocaine rather than the illegal performance enhancers. The indictment alleges that he also lied when he said his former Yankee teammate Andy Pettitte “misremember[ed]’’ when testifying that Clemens confided to Pettitte that he had used HGH. Clemens allegedly lied, too, when he said he was unaware McNamee injected his wife, Debbie, with HGH in 2003.

Clemens, who earned more than $120 million before endorsements during his playing career, ranks among the all-time leading pitchers in wins (354), strikeouts (4,672), and games started (707). He was named to 11 all-star teams and received both the Cy Young Award and AL MVP award in 1986, when he led the Sox to the World Series against the New York Mets.

The indictment diminishes his chances of entering the National Baseball of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2013. The charges also hurt the prospect of Clemens entering the Sox Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2012.

He most recently visited Fenway Park when he made a surprise visit in June to watch a game from the Monster seats.

Tim Wakefield, Clemens’s closest friend among the current Sox, declined to comment on the indictment.

David Ortiz, who last year was identified as failing a confidential test for performance enhancers in 2003, said, “That’s too bad. I don’t know [Clemens] well, just to say hello. But that’s not good for the game.’’

Mike Cameron said, “For a lot of us, it’s old news. Good luck to him.’’

Lou Gorman, the Sox general manager during the ’86 World Series run, said, “I’m saddened this has happened to him. I loved Roger in so many ways. We had our battles, but I always respected his talent and his greatness.’’

Dan Duquette, who succeeded Gorman as general manager in 1994, set off a long feud with Clemens when he opted against re-signing him in 1996, saying he was in “the twilight of his career.’’ Less than two years later, Clemens allegedly began using steroids.

Duquette, asked last month on The Pulse Network about Clemens’s 13-year career with the Sox, said, “Let’s let it play out a little bit more. I think there is more information and evidence that Roger used performance enhancing drugs in a significant way.’’

Duquette, reached by the Globe yesterday, was asked if the indictment reflected the culmination of his assertion last month or whether there may be more to come.

“Great question,’’ he said laughing, declining to be more specific.

Clemens now must weigh his legal options, which include fighting the charges before a jury and reaching a plea agreement, as Tejada did last year with the same prosecutor. Tejada pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2005 when investigators were examining former Baltimore slugger Rafael Palmeiro’s alleged steroid use. Tejada was sentenced to one year of probation.

Clemens would likely face a stiffer sentence if he were convicted, considering the greater number of charges against him. Prosecutors rarely seek lenience for defendants who decline plea offers and go to trial.

But first they must gain a conviction.

“My assessment is that the evidence is strong in this particular case, but perjury cases can be difficult,’’ said Katherine B. Darmer, a law professor at Chapman University in California and former federal prosecutor in New York who specialized in public corruption cases.

Cases involving high-profile sports figures can be complicated to try, she said, citing O.J. Simpson’s acquittal on double homicide charges in 1995. Some potential jurors also may disagree with the government’s pursuit of such cases, particularly in difficult economic times.

“For all those reasons, despite the relative strength of the case, it’s by no means a slam dunk,’’ Darmer said.

Peter Abraham and Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed, and material from the Associated Press was also used.

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