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Four face charges in steroid scheme

A San Francisco grand jury yesterday returned a 42-count indictment against four people, charging them with providing performance-enhancing drugs to Major League Baseball players, NFL players, and track and field stars.

The indictment describes how Bay Area Lab Cooperative (BALCO), a nutritional supplements lab, allegedly provided the drugs from December 2001 to September 2003.

Those charged are San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds's personal trainer, Greg F. Anderson; Remi Korchemny, coach of world champion sprinter Kelli White of the United States and European sprint champion Dwain Chambers of Britain (both of whom have flunked drug tests); Victor Conte Jr., the president and chief executive officer of BALCO; and BALCO's vice president, James J. Valente.

No players were named in the indictment or in the court documents obtained by the Associated Press. However, Attorney General John Ashcroft left open the possibility some could be charged.

"We have not limited prosecution in this setting to those who are being prosecuted today," Ashcroft said in announcing the indictment.

Among the charges are conspiracy to distribute steroids, possession of human growth hormone, misbranding drugs with intent to defraud, and money laundering.

"Nothing does more to diminish our potential -- both as individuals and as a nation -- than illegal drug abuse," Ashcroft said at a Washington news conference.

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw expressed relief that athletes were not named, but said, "You would hope athletes would learn from this. It's illegal and you can get in trouble for it, and they can't avoid seeing that."

According to an affidavit from an IRS agent who investigated the case, Conte -- who worked with Bonds even prior to 2001, when he hit a record-setting 73 home runs -- sent e-mails to unidentified athletes indicating schemes to fool drug-testing programs used by pro sports leagues and the Olympics.

The steroids known as "the cream" and "the clear" were the major focus of the indictment. One was used to mask the use of the drug during testing and the other produced "steroid-like" effects without a positive reading. The defendants allegedly got away with their activities by using made-up names on mailing labels and also used a coded shorthand to identify the drugs.

If convicted, Conte and his accomplices could face lengthy prison terms and large fines.

"We've expected it. It's no secret they were going to indict him," Conte's attorney, Troy Ellerman, told the Associated Press.

Bonds, along with Olympic track star Marion Jones and boxer Shane Mosley, appeared before the grand jury probing BALCO and Anderson from late October to mid-December. Patriots special teams captain Larry Izzo was also on a list of football players asked to testify about BALCO. Five track and field athletes face two-year suspensions for testing positive for tetrahydragestrinone (THG) and four members of the Oakland Raiders football team also flunked tests for the steroid.

In testimony, Conte denied being the source of the steroid.

A few top athletes have endorsed BALCO and its methods, including Bonds and Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski. The company describes itself as a lab that takes blood and urine samples and detects cases in which a regimen of supplements can compensate for vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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