Greg Anderson’s pledge of allegiance
In the movie “The Departed,” Arnold French, the mass-murdering mob henchman, commiserated with his boss, Frank Costello, about the lack of honor among thieves.
“It’s a nation,” French said, “of [expletive] rats.”
Costello agreed of course. How couldn’t he? The Jack Nicholson character wasn’t just a Southie crime boss but himself an informant for the FBI.
Even American cinema has figured out what the federal government has long understood – these days everyone flips. The era of “The Godfather,” where Frank Pentangeli took prison time, and then suicide, to spare Michael Corleone, is long gone. And not just in the movies.
Federal prosecutors win more than 95 percent of their cases, in part because of the rush of witnesses willing to cooperate in exchange for leniency.
Michael Vick’s “Bad Newz Kennels” crew rolled on the NFL quarterback in a heartbeat even though none faced extensive prison time. Instead they stuck their money train with a 23-month sentence and $100 million in lost income.
Into this vacuum of criminal constancy walks the considerable frame of Greg Anderson, one-time youth baseball teammate of, personal trainer to, forever silent soldier for and likely legal savior of Barry Lamar Bonds.
Anderson won’t talk, won’t testify and won’t cooperate with authorities. As Bonds’ federal perjury trial approaches (jury selection is scheduled to begin March 3 in San Francisco), that tight-lipped loyalty is why baseball’s home run king might beat the rap.
The government’s case against Bonds has been significantly damaged by Anderson’s refusal to corroborate critical evidence. The trial may be delayed if the prosecution decides to appeal a recent evidence ruling and take time to regroup.
Five years, millions of dollars and untold man hours may go for naught because of one thing the prosecution couldn’t anticipate – Anderson bucking all trends and refusing to turn on Bonds.
The feds ran into the last principled crook in America.
“He will never crack,” said Victor Conte, the BALCO founder who knows Anderson well. “He will never talk.”
Anderson, 43, pled guilty in 2005 to steroid distribution and money laundering. He served three months in prison and three more in home detention.
Once that was done, he stopped answering the feds’ phone calls, letters, knocks at the door, court orders, home raids and intimidation tactics. Not even return trips to jail have weakened him. He’s done two more stints totaling just over a year for refusing to speak to a grand jury about Bonds. Even his wife reportedly backed out of a deal to talk to the prosecution.
Last month Anderson’s aging mother-in-law’s house was swarmed by 20 federal officers, who seized her tax records. It was perhaps the final show of force the government had available.
This week Judge Susan Illston is expected to call Anderson into court to ask if he will abide by a subpoena to testify. If he won’t, Anderson may be sent back to jail for the length of the trial.
As Anderson has refused to bend, his power over the case has grown.
Last Thursday in a pretrial ruling, Illston threw out physical evidence such as failed drug tests allegedly belonging to Bonds and doping calendars that supposedly detail Bonds’ drug cycles. Gone too were some statements from witnesses. Illston said it was all inadmissible because the government couldn’t offer proper verification.
Anderson is the only person capable of doing that.
With no Anderson, there may not be much of a case. The government either has to appeal Illston’s decision or go to trial under difficult circumstances.
The crux is whether Bonds lied when he said he didn’t knowingly take illegal steroids. First the prosecution must prove he took them at all. “The Clear,” which Bonds admitted to a grand jury in 2003 that he had used, was not classified as an illegal steroid until 2005. That technicality made the failed drug tests paramount because they were for actual steroids. But now the jury won’t see those.
If the feds can’t prove Bonds took illegal steroids at all, then they certainly can’t prove he lied when he said he didn’t knowingly take them.
All that’s left is a handful of witnesses who will testify Bonds discussed taking steroids with them and perhaps an examination of before and after size of Bonds’, ah, well, body parts.
Bonds’ defense team will take their chances if that’s the extent of the prosecution’s case.
Anderson grew up two grades behind Bonds in the affluent Bay Area suburb of San Carlos. The two played Babe Ruth league ball together and reconnected as adults when Anderson became a physical trainer.
No matter what you think of Bonds, Anderson or anyone purposefully thwarting the nation’s rule of law, the level of loyalty here is something to behold. Judge Illston said last week that she can’t find a precedent “where someone was imprisoned for a year during grand jury proceedings and then called to trial and jailed again.”
Every other identified steroid dealer in baseball – Kirk Radomski, Brian McNamee, etc. – quickly made deals with prosecutors, trading information for leniency.
Anderson, on the other hand, has served time not as punishment for something he did, but for something he wouldn’t do, in this case talk. Most folks try to avoid a punishment they deserve. Anderson had already done the time for his crime and double jeopardy laws protect him from further prosecution.
He’s volunteered his freedom to protect Bonds.
And there is little question that he is, indeed, protecting his friend. Why would he refuse to testify if it would help Bonds? If talking would exonerate Bonds, why would Anderson go to prison to remain quiet?
His motives are open to debate. Some speculate he loves Bonds; others that he hates the government prosecutors.
“In 2005, Greg signed a plea agreement that did not require any form of cooperation,” Conte said. “Thereafter, he went to prison and served his time. Greg now feels that the prosecutors lied to him and he does not trust them at all. It is really as simple as that.”
There’s a theory that Anderson never told Bonds precisely what was being put into his system and as such he knows Bonds is innocent. As a result, Anderson is willing to take the hit for putting his friend in this position.
Perhaps he just believes in the old code of the streets and is willing to turn his life upside down to avoid snitching. Most likely it’s a combination of some of the above.
Bonds, who made nearly $200 million in salary playing baseball, could agree to take care of Anderson and his family for his loyalty. It’s what the Corleones did for Frank Pentangeli when he played dumb at that congressional hearing.
Doing so is legal. While perceived hush money for a convicted felon might hurt Bonds in the court of public opinion, that’s not the concern anymore.
A court of law is all that matters and Anderson’s inaction may just ensure the case doesn’t even get that far. While not total vindication for Bonds, this would be a satisfying victory.
It’s been said the often-surly slugger never had many true friends, even back in high school.
If so, in a country full of [expletive] rats, he managed to choose wisely.