Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What bothers me about the Barry Bonds case

I'm not a big fan of the charge "lying to Federal Investigators," which more and more people get charged with. Note: this is not the charge of lying under oath or perjury. There is great risk in misremembering an event and then, with no intent to mislead, being found guilty of lying.

The thing to realize about the BALCO steroids scandal, which lurches into its most headline-grabbing phase yet today when baseball home run king Barry Bonds is arraigned on five counts of perjury and obstruction in a San Francisco courtroom, is that the federal government's underlying criminal case has been closed for more than 28 months.
Remember this is also true of the case of Scooter Libby who was convicted of this in the case involving Valerie Plame (CIA investigator who was "outed" by White House Officials). In that case it turned out that the Special Prosecutor already knew who had leaked the information about Valerie Plame and that it wasn't a crime long before he ever was "lied to" by Scooter Libby. The investigation should have stopped there, but when have we ever known a prosecutor to end an investigation without charges in a case that is even mildly high profile?

Here is another really frustrating excerpt discussing the Bond's case. Read the whole article though:

A fourth defendant, BALCO Vice President James Valente, copped to a single count of conspiracy and was sentenced to probation, meaning that in the most publicized steroids investigation in U.S. history, 40 of the original 42 charges—which were announced with great fanfare by then-top cop John Ashcroft in February 2004—were dropped faster than a Tim Wakefield knuckleball, resulting in a combined seven months of prison for the criminals. As the steroid prohibitionists at the San Francisco Chronicle wrote at the time, with palpable disappointment, the criminal case "seemed to end with a whimper."

But there's plenty of evidence that the prosecutorial "bang" in this interminable case (of five-plus years and counting) has always been more about publicly shaming elite athletes and punishing witnesses who don't cooperate with the feds than rooting out any vast criminal conspiracy.

Take sentencing, for example. Bonds' trainer Anderson did his three months behind bars, but was then twice hauled back to prison on civil contempt charges for refusing to testify in front of grand juries investigating his boss for perjury. Total time of incarceration for non-cooperation? Fourteen months. He was released the day of Bonds' indictment [PDF], leaving his defense team, led by high-profile lawyer Mark Geragos, sputtering with fury.

"It's infuriating, when you read the indictment," Geragos told the Chronicle. "Is there anything in that indictment that wasn't known a year ago? If that is the case, clearly, putting Greg in for a year was not only punitive, but was misleading the court in that [federal prosecutors] said his testimony was indispensable for the investigation. [...] The whole thing is a crock of shit. He's never said word one."
Yes, see it isn't about steroids, it's about advancing governmental power that is already running unchecked by anyone. Sell steroids get a slap on the wrist (as it should be in my opinion), but DARE to challenge the government or assert your own rights and you can be sure they will come after you with both barrels.

Not only that, but on a Federal level, they overcharge you. That is, they charge you with something that could potentially get you 30 years in prison, then offer you a plea deal for three years (or so). Even if you were innocent, would you risk a 30 year prison sentence? There needs to be a citizen board that oversees prosecutors in order to make certain they charge people fairly. Don't believe it happens, look at what Jamaal Lewis was charged with or Marion Jones.
The government's priorities were on stark display in October when lead Internal Revenue Service BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky—a man who, according to a damning May 2004 Playboy magazine profile, had lobbied various federal agencies for years to launch a steroids sting, "always with Bonds as the lure"—squeezed a plea deal out of track and field superstar Marion Jones. "To extract her confession," the New York Times wrote in a mostly flattering profile of Novitzky last month, "he used the leverage of a more serious charge from an unrelated check-fraud scheme." Getting Jones to weepily admit in public that she'd been lying all along about steroids, it seems, was more important than ferreting out her role in "a scheme to defraud numerous banks out of millions of dollars by laundering stolen, altered and counterfeit checks.
As for what will happen in the Bons Case, as the author of the article, Matt Welch, puts it: It may not be justice, but from the federal government's point of view it will be Mission Accomplished.


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