Novitzky's reach goes from BALCO to Clemens

Novitzky's reach goes from BALCO to Clemens
By Josh Peter, Yahoo Sports
January 8, 2008

Josh Peter
Yahoo Sports
If the defamation lawsuit Roger Clemens filed against his former trainer proves one thing, it's this: Some of the most prominent people implicated in the ongoing steroids scandal have found a common target.

He stands 6-foot-6 and sports a clean-shaven head.

He works for the Internal Revenue Service, though some might assume he is employed by the FBI or DEA.

He sifted through the trash outside the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. And the evidence he collected set off a scandal that has called into question the reputations not only of Barry Bonds, Clemens and dozens of other athletes, but also his own.

His name is Jeff Novitzky and he has surfaced yet again, this time in the lawsuit Clemens filed against the pitcher's former trainer, Brian McNamee. Though the suit claims McNamee made false and defamatory statements when he alleged Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone (HGH), Novtizky's name appears in the suit – prominently.

It was Novitzky and another key figure in the BALCO case who elicited McNamee's confession detailing how Clemens allegedly used steroids and HGH. The lawsuit claims Novitzky participated in aggressive questioning – "like a Cold War interrogation,'' McNamee said, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims McNamee told people that Novitzky and assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella conducted an interrogation that turned hostile before McNamee recanted denials that Clemens used steroids and HGH. Only under pressure from Novitzky and Parrella, who according to the lawsuit told McNamee they had enough evidence to convict the former trainer and send him to prison, did McNamee provide detailed allegations about Clemens using performance-enhancing drugs. However, Earl Ward, McNamee's attorney, has said his client was not bullied or pressured in any way.

"There's nothing illegal about what the government did there, assuming what was reported is true,'' said Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University who closely followed the BALCO case.

Attempts to reach Novitzky for comment were unsuccessful.

No law-enforcement agency or judge has taken action against the IRS agent for any alleged improprieties. But if Clemens' defamation suit goes to trial, allegations that have trailed Novitzky could resurface yet again – and the accusations have included that he singled out Bonds because of his disdain for baseball's home run king, fabricated statements during the BALCO-related interrogations and committed criminal misconduct.

"Certainly how the investigation was carried out very well could be part of the defense's case down the road,'' said Robert D. Richards, a professor of journalism and law at Penn State University.

Richards said previous allegations leveled against Novitzky also could come into play "if the lawyers can make a case for relevance.''

Without Novitzky's work, there would have been no BALCO scandal and the Mitchell Report would have had significantly less heft. It wouldn't have included Clemens or the names of dozens of players connected to Kirk Radomski, the former clubhouse attendant for the New York Mets who said he distributed steroids and HGH. Novitzky wrote a 27-page affidavit in 2005 that spelled out the allegations against Radomski.

Before anyone questioned Novitzky's tactics, motives or ethics, the more obvious question was this: Why is an IRS agent from Northern California in charge of an investigation into steroids?

For starters, Novitzky is not the average IRS agent. He is a member of a criminal investigation division that is provided with freedom and discretion in choosing cases to pursue. Allegations that Victor Conte and others laundered money when they distributed steroids cleared the way for Novitzky to lead the investigation.

The public controversy surrounding the IRS agent dates back to an article published in Playboy magazine in May 2004 by Jonathan Littman, an acclaimed author who writes for Yahoo! Sports. According to the article, Iran White, who worked the early stages of the BALCO case with Novitzky, made the following allegations:

• That Novitzky seemed to care only about busting Bonds and that he expressed disdain for baseball's home run king.

• Novitzky used Bonds as the lure in persuading law-enforcement agencies to pursue the case and enlist the help of White, an undercover cop forced to leave the investigation when he suffered a stroke.

• That he heard Novitzky talking excitedly to one of the drug agents about a book deal.

The next round of allegations was filed in court.

Conte and others accused in the BALCO scheme accused Novitzky and other agents involved in the raid of the laboratory in Burlingame, Calif., of illegally coercing statements, improperly serving search warrants and using excessive force during the raid. The presiding judge, after ruling the defendants could try to persuade her that the statements made to investigators should not be used against them, rejected the arguments.

Conte and four others were convicted, but the accusations against Novitzky continued. Next up: Michael Rains, an attorney for Bonds. Using a media outlet, he went on the offensive, telling a reporter that he had evidence that the IRS agent committed criminal misconduct and that he would disclose it unless the government ceased its investigation of Bonds.

The government continued to investigate, leading to an indictment of Bonds. Rains never went public with any of the alleged evidence implicating Novitzky.

Since he began digging through the trash outside BALCO, the only public comment Novitzky has offered was a November email sent to The New York Times in which he asked that his photograph not be published. The email read, "The possibility of greatly diminishing my ability to investigate this case and others arises any time my picture and name are publicized.''

But if Clemens' lawsuit goes to trial, Novitzky's persistent efforts to avoid the spotlight might end. He might be forced to take the witness stand.

Josh Peter is a writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Josh a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2008 9:39 pm, EST

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