For more than a year, Barry Bonds' personal trainer sat inside a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., refusing to testify about his knowledge of performance-enhancing drug use by his superstar client. Finally, on Nov. 15, 2007 -- the day Bonds was initially indicted on perjury charges -- Greg Anderson was set free, seemingly ending a major squeeze play by local prosecutors.
Instead, even as Anderson was released, the government made a move on another member of his family. Within days of the trainer's release, his wife, Nicole Gestas, received a letter from federal prosecutors informing her that she is the target of a grand jury investigation, four people with knowledge of the BALCO steroids case told ESPN.
The sources asked not to be quoted by name because of the ongoing investigation. Since the initial target letter went out, two of the sources, both lawyers, say they have learned that the government's interest in Gestas stems from tax-related issues. The Internal Revenue Service has been the lead investigative agency in the BALCO case, and the sources said they believe the pressure on Gestas -- and possibly other family members -- is directed at finally getting Anderson to cooperate against Bonds.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a renegade, a wannabe militia member or even all that much of an anti-establishment guy. I pay my taxes. I put my hand over my heart when I say the pledge. Sure, I have my radical moments, but for the most part I'm just your average shlubby white suburban guy who is usually content enough with the bread and circuses to not really complain about the government.
That said, the level of overreaching, coercion, and out-and-out intimidation I have seen from federal agents in recent years has been shocking, both in this case and in many others. Is it legitimate for the feds to exert pressure on someone in order to get someone else to do something else? Sure, in the abstract. It's actually pretty effective law enforcement. But such tactics are easily abused, and in the instance of Anderson, Gestas, and Bonds, I believe power is being abused.
The resources put into the Bonds prosecution have been staggering and the amount of gusto put into going after him has been extreme. Greg Anderson -- at worst a low-level drug peddler -- was incarcerated for over a year, and now his family is under the microscope. While I will not join with those who categorically oppose the Bonds prosecution -- perjury before a grand jury is a problem and should be deterred -- notions of deterrence have long since been abandoned in this case.
While some may say that the pressure is justified if, indeed, Gestas has tax problems, I submit to you that all of us, on some level, would be in trouble if an IRS agent armed with virtually unchecked power decided to make our lives his priority. And make no mistake, they are making Gestas a priority here. I have been a part of these kinds of offshoot investigations (i.e. clients subjected to federal scrutiny as agents try to build a case against someone else), and you'd be surprised at just how intense the spotlight becomes. IRS agents are human, and they don't like dead ends. When they find some fertile ground in the form of a third party witness, the primary target of the investigation is virtually forgotten and the subsidiary case quickly becomes the main focus.
If Barry Bonds lied to the grand jury, he should be punished for it. I do not believe, however, that the witnesses against him -- and their families -- should be punished on orders of magnitude more.