Lies led Marion Jones to prison

By A. James Memmott

January 14, 2008 at 11:32am

Once again, it’s the cover-up and not the crime that gets someone in trouble.

Olympic track star Marion Jones was sentenced Friday to six months in prison for not telling authorities the truth in two unrelated cases.

Like Martha Stewart, I. Lewis Libby Jr. and other high-profile fibbers, Jones learned the hard way that it’s best to play it straight when talking with federal investigators and/or grand juries.

“I want people to think twice before lying,” said U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth W. Karas of the southern district of New York in pronouncing a six-month sentence. “I want to make them realize no one is above the law.”

Before her guilty plea last year, Jones, 32, had denied to investigators and a grand jury that she used performance enhancing drugs from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative.

Authorities allege that the California concern supplied steroids, human growth hormone and other substances to athletes. The investigation into the lab is at the center of revelations that track stars, baseball players and other athletes used performance-enhancing drugs.

Jones also told investigators she didn’t know about a check-fraud and money-laundering enterprise that involved Tim Montgomery, another Olympic sprinter and her former partner.

In October 2007, Jones admitted she had lied in both cases and that she had used performance-enhancing drugs in 2000 and 2001.

“I have let my country down, and I have let myself down,” said Jones, who has been stripped of the five medals (three gold, two silver) that she won at the 2000 Olympic Summer games in Australia.

The Jones case was similar to Stewart’s. The media leader and television personality was convicted in 2004 on four counts of obstructing justice and lying to investigators about a suspicious stock deal. Stewart served five months in a federal penitentiary.

Similarly, in March of last year, Libbey, the former chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to F.B.I. investigators and a grand jury. The jury had been looking into the leaking of information to the press about Valerie Plame, a CIA operative. President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence in July.

Barry Bonds, Major League Baseball’s all-time home run leader, now faces perjury charges. Prosecutors charge that he lied to to federal investigators and a grand jury in the BALCO case.

In the past, Bonds has offered an explanation identical to one used by Jones before she admitted her steroid use. He and she both stated that they had been told they were being given flaxseed oil, not steroids, as part of their training.

The BALCO case investigation figures heavily in the report on illegal performance-enhancing drugs released in December by former Sen. George J. Mitchell.

Although she denied her steroid use for years, Jones suffered a kind of guilt by association for a long time.

Her first husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, failed four tests for steroids before the 2000 Olympic games. He also was a focus of the BALCO case, as were Trevor Graham, Jones’ former coach, and Montgomery, her former partner and the mother of her first child.

In 2004, Montgomery admitted to a grand jury that he had used human growth hormone and steroids received from BALCO.

Montgomery also testified that Victor Conte, the founder of the Bay Area lab, told him he supplied steroids to Bonds. Conte denies this.

In April 2007, Montgomery pleaded guilty for his role in a check-fraud and money-laundering scheme. Jones admitted that she lied about her knowledge of his participation in the fraud. Jones is now married to former Olympic sprinter Obadele Thompson. They have one child.

Steve Riddick, who coached both Jones and Montgomery, was also involved in the check-fraud case. Karas sentenced him Friday to five years and three months in prison.

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