Pittsburgh Prosecutor Defends Immunity Given Players in Cocaine Trial

U.S. Attorney J. Alan Johnson says he has no regrets about his decision to expose baseball’s alleged cocaine connections through the testimony under immunity from prosecution of the sport’s highly paid stars at a drug-dealing trial in Pittsburgh.

Seven current or former ballplayers have admitted buying and using illegal drugs, but all were given immunity in return for their testimony against Curtis Strong, a Philadelphia caterer charged with 16 federal counts of selling cocaine to major league players in Pittsburgh between 1980 and 1984.

“Cocaine is a problem not just in baseball, but in society,” Johnson said. “Twenty million people in this country have tried cocaine. Five thousand people try it for the first time every day. It is a major problem in this country.

“This case has shown what happens to some people when they use cocaine.

“You always risk criticism when you try a high-profile case. We sought immunity for the players for a purpose--to compel somebody to testify. We didn’t get any volunteers. . . . These guys (players) weren’t running over here volunteering to testify. They weren’t running over here saying so and so was dealing drugs at the Hilton.


“I didn’t like granting immunity to these people. But my conscience didn’t let me walk away from this case. We had clandestine meetings with a buyer and a seller and no one else present. You had to grant immunity to either one or the other. Selling is a felony, buying is a misdemeanor. Given a choice, you’ll always go after the seller rather than the buyer.”