Federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against Barry Bonds as a desperate move to save face after spending several years and millions of dollars investigating the slugger, said Bonds’ lawyer, Michael Rains.
But Bonds did not lie to a federal grand jury probing the Balco steroid ring, Rains said, despite being set up to do so by government prosecutors.
“Barry got up on the stand and did his best to answer questions and to answer them truthfully,” Rains said. “He told them like it is.”
And the case – in which Bonds is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice – will likely be dismissed before it ever gets to a trial, Rains said. The lawyer estimated a trial would not begin for more than a year.
“Everybody has an opinion about Barry. A lot of people love and respect him and a lot of people dislike him. He understands that,” Rains told the Mercury News in his first comprehensive interview since the indictments were announced Thursday. “Whether you like him or dislike him, the way the federal government has proceeded in this case is going to be a very, very sad commentary on the enormous power of the government to ruin people’s lives and to scar their reputation for no good reason.”
Federal prosecutors have declined comment.
But Kevin V. Ryan, a former U.S. attorney in Northern California who resigned in January, defended the investigation.
“I am unaware of any facts that support his claim that the prosecutors he was dealing with acted ‘unethically,’ ” Ryan responded by e-mail. Ryan shepherded the criminal cases against Victor Conte Jr. and others who were eventually convicted of roles in an illegal steroid ring for elite athletes. “In fact, from what I know, they acted at all times professionally and with the highest ethics.”
Rains’ counterattack comes as he and federal prosecutors prepare for what promises to be Balco II – a celebrity extension of the steroids sports scandal that began in 2003 with the federal investigations into the Burlingame lab and its clientele of world-class athletes.
The latest incarnation of this high-profile, high-stakes legal showdown played out at the federal court building in San Francisco not far from the ballpark where Bonds set the all-time home run record in August.
If convicted, the former Giant faces prison time. But no matter what, his historical major league baseball career could be over. Rains said he wasn’t sure if Bonds would play again.
He said the timing of the indictment – coming right when teams seek out free agents such as Bonds – may well have crippled his chances.
Meanwhile, Bonds’ reaction to the indictment was one of “surprise,” Rains reported. The lawyer said the two had only spoken briefly on the phone, but planned to meet in coming days.
Rains said he, too, was surprised at the timing and content of the indictment.
“My initial reaction was that they cherry-picked four statements occupying a combined total of two or three minutes of testimony out of what amounted to four hours of testimony in December of 2003,” Rains said.
Rains said he wasn’t sure exactly what evidence prosecutors planned to use against Bonds.
But the indictment seemed to show they were at least planning on using seized documents and test results.
In the indictment, prosecutors cited Bonds’ denials of steroid use when confronted with documents such as one labeled “Barry B” that the prosecutor connected to positive test results for anabolic steroids.
Rains was skeptical.
“I am not aware of Barry ever testing positive for steroids,” Rains said. “I’ve never heard of (a positive test). Whatever they have, they have, I’ll be happy to look at it.”
Rains said prosecutors had “sprung” the documents on his client during his grand jury appearance, despite promises to let him review such material.
And Rains predicted potential problems with such evidence, saying prosecutors would have to answer a number of questions: Who authored the documents? Exactly how were any medical samples from the slugger taken? And how were they labeled, stored and transported?
Conte, the mastermind behind Balco who administered urine and blood tests on Bonds and other athletes, told the Mercury News on Friday that he was not aware of any tests in which Bonds had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Conte served four months in prison for steroid distribution and money-laundering.
Rains declined to get too specific about his allegations of misconduct by federal investigators and prosecutors. He did say government prosecutors had lied to Bonds and set him up for a “perjury trap” – the concept that the government could call a witness before a grand jury primarily to get testimony it would later use to charge that witness with perjury.
“It’s inappropriate if you are Barry Bonds or John Doe,” Rains said. “They broke the rules to get Barry.”
Ryan denied his office ever intended to entrap Bonds into perjury.
Rains, a former Vietnam War-era Marine and later a Southern California street cop, is now a top trial attorney who brings a combative style to his work.
Despite his current high-wattage client, his East Bay-based law firm specializes in defending law enforcement officers in legal hot water. Rains successfully represented defendants in the “Oakland Riders” police corruption and the “Corcoran 8” prison guard brutality cases.
With Bonds, Rains has been just as aggressive about openly questioning the government’s methods and motives. Some have questioned whether his style of advocacy was causing problems for his star client.
Rains shrugged off that notion.
“My only concern here is Barry,” he said. “I openly admit I don’t respect the government or those involved in this case for the way they have treated Barry.”
Rains said he would soon prepare a series of motions that would spell out his allegations – as well as asking a judge to throw the case out.
The lawyer said he felt that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco had acted as “a renegade” in charging Bonds despite what he characterized as their lack of evidence.
“They have spent millions of dollars and turned (chief Balco investigator) Jeff Novitzy loose in an unsupervised fashion for half a decade now,” Rains said. “They need to say they got something for their efforts. Why not take a flier now?”