Novitzky outlines genesis of BALCO trial

March 27, 2008 7:26:34 PM PDT
One of the federal government's star witnesses in the BALCO steroid case went dumpster diving for information about athletes. That was among the fascinating tidbits offered up by IRS agent Jeff Novitzky in the trial of a star cyclist.

Former elite cyclist Tammy Thomas was indicted and charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors say she lied when she testified before a BALCO grand jury that she never used performance enhancing drugs.

Crucial to the government's case is 40-year-old Jeff Novitzky, the IRS agent who led the BALCO investigation. The key witness testified for the first time Thursday.

Mark Fainaru-Wada, now works for ESPN. He was one of two Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO story.

"For the government, he brings them the nature of the investigation. He brings them the kinds of information they have on Tammy Thomas and can verify the way all of that played out and how they got it," says Fainaru-Wada, "Game of Shadows" author.

Prosecutors methodically led Novitzky through the chronology of his BALCO investigation. He told jurors he began investigating the Burlingame drug lab in the summer of 2002 when he went on an Internet site and found postings by Conte advertising drugs that could help athletes.

He talked about the surveillance of BALCO and how, for a year, he scoured the garbage bins in the middle of the night looking for evidence. Wearing the thickest gloves he could find, Novtizky says he found discarded needle wrappers. He said the raids on BALCO and Conte's home in September of 2003 netted doping calendars, steroid test results and names of athletes.

Court observers believe this is a dress rehearsal for Barry Bonds, if his case ever goes to trial. He's also charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says Novitzky may provide the nuts and bolts of the investigation, but not the key question.

"Did Barry Bonds knowingly use steroids? That's another question. He doesn't have a lot to say about that. That's going to come from other evidence and other witnesses," says Johnson.

Novitzsky is well suited for the BALCO case. He was a college athlete -- a basketball player.

In fact, Novitzky says he actually heard of Victor Conte when he was playing ball for San Jose State in the late 80s. Conte sparked his interest because athletes, through advertising endorsements, were giving his nutritional supplements credit for helping them perform better. Little did he know then.


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