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Prosecutors Appear to Veer Past Justice to Vendetta

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog.

Prosecuting Barry Bonds lands at the bottom of my list of things our government should do. It’s something we need about as much as a congressional proclamation that this is National Ryan Seacrest Day.

Unearth the terrorist cells that are plotting to kill more Americans. Go after corporate crooks who cost employees their jobs and retirement savings. Just don’t waste “millions of dollars” (in the estimation of Bonds’ attorney Laura Enos) going after a baseball player because he isn’t a nice guy.

He isn’t a danger to me or you. Bonds doesn’t pose a threat to anything except Hank Aaron’s home run record. But federal prosecutors are pushing ahead, with speculation that Bonds could be indicted this week on charges of tax evasion for allegedly not reporting income from memorabilia sales and perjury for allegedly lying about steroid use.

“The idea that you prosecute an athlete for signing autographs and not paying taxes on it, it’s like prosecuting a waiter for not paying taxes on tips,” said Stuart Hanlon, a San Francisco-based lawyer. “My feeling is that it’s a vindictive prosecution and it’s biased. It makes no sense from a legal perspective. It’s not about stopping steroids. It’s not about stopping perjury.

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“Steroids -- I think it’s clear that the young people are beginning to understand the dangers. In terms of lying, perjury is perjury. It’s about something else. One wonders: What is the agenda?”

Hanlon lives in a place where, he admits, “We’re the only people in the world who like Barry Bonds.” I live in Los Angeles and I’m a member of the media, reasons enough not to like Bonds and for him not to like me. But I’m with Hanlon.

I also don’t care whether Bonds skimped on taxes. What matters to the sports world is determining what players used steroids and when, and a tax-evasion indictment wouldn’t address that. I keep hearing it’s analogous to sending Al Capone to jail for taxes. Capone was on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Bonds hit home runs. No comparison.

This would simply be a use of public money to handle baseball’s Bonds problem and make him go away.

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At this point it’s not so much justice as justification for time and money spent. As Enos told the Associated Press, “After four years of investigation and the expenditure of millions of dollars, I suppose they are motivated to try to get an indictment.”

If Bonds were to be indicted and convicted of perjury, it would be newsworthy because it would prove Bonds took steroids and lied about it. But perjury convictions are rarely sought and difficult to win. We all saw Rafael Palmeiro tell a congressional committee he “never used steroids,” then subsequently tested positive for steroids. That would seem as clear-cut as you could find, but if they weren’t able to find enough evidence to prosecute him on that, how could they get Bonds? More important, why would they?

I don’t like what I’m seeing from the prosecutors, the selective justice, the vendetta, the leaked grand-jury testimony (let’s see how doggedly they pursue that crime). Instead of going all-out to eradicate steroids, they’re zeroing in on one person. When Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley was questioned about performance-enhancing drugs by federal agents, they wanted him to incriminate Bonds, Grimsley’s lawyer told the Arizona Republic.

The feds served their purpose when they exposed the secrets and clientele of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Now it just seems personal.

And it’s interesting that while Bonds could stand trial if indicted, Lance Armstrong just stood on stage hosting the ESPY awards even though there’s a similar stack of circumstantial evidence, legal testimony, innuendoes, bitter ex-partners and associations with dubious figures casting a suspicious shadow on Armstrong.

If Bonds were to be indicted, convicted and sentenced to terms similar to those handed down to his trainer Greg Anderson and BALCO founder Victor Conte, he would be in prison for less time than a baseball season.

And what be accomplished by sending Bonds to jail? It doesn’t let baseball off the hook for not minding the gate while so many players were sneaking performance-enhancing drugs into the asylum. And it doesn’t address the crime that -- in the eyes of so many sports fans -- Bonds committed against the game.

Would we just erase Bonds’ name and numbers from the record books? Then what would we do about Ken Caminiti’s 1996 MVP award? Or the Oakland Athletics’ 1989 World Series championship? Would we still discount a steroid-aided home run if we discovered the pitcher who threw the ball was juiced as well?

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The only thing we can do with Bonds, BALCO and the book by Jose Canseco is snap out of the delusional funk, be more skeptical about the enhanced physiques we see and be more insistent on stringent testing. And we don’t need federal prosecutors or any more time in the overcrowded court schedule for that.


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