Jon Pessah had a column at ESPN yesterday that was noteworthy for two reasons. One, it was a detailed accounting of all of the laws that have been broken by IRS uber-Agent Jeff Novitzky in his pursuit of Barry Bonds, and two, because it was only about four years too late:
…. Until September 2003, Novitzky was an anonymous IRS special agent working drug and fraud crimes in Silicon Valley. Then his investigation into BALCO blew the lid off steroids. Soon he had the backing of Congress, President Bush—who included steroids in a State of the Union—and the U.S. attorney general, who announced the BALCO indictment on national TV. That’s a lot of clout for an IRS agent. Maybe too much.
That’s certainly how it looked in 2004 when Novitzky raided Comprehensive Drug Testing, the nation’s largest sports-drug testing company. What happened on that day is complicated but boils down to this: Novitzky walked into CDT with 11 armed agents and a search warrant for the confidential test results of 10 baseball players with ties to BALCO. Hours later, he walked out with more than 4,000 medical files, including those of every major league baseball player, a bunch of NFL and NHL pros, and workers from three businesses. Maybe one that employs you.
Three federal judges reviewed the raid. One asked, incredulously, if the Fourth Amendment had been repealed. Another, Susan Illston, who has presided over the BALCO trials, called Novitzky’s actions a “callous disregard” for constitutional rights. All three instructed him to return the records. Instead, Novitzky kept the evidence, reviewed the results and received clearance from an appeals court to pursue 103 MLB players who, those records revealed, had tested positive for steroids. (That investigation is pending another appeals court decision, expected this fall.)
An IRS watchdog unit has found cause to question the agent’s methods too.
…. Now the Novitzky era reaches a climax with the March 2 trial. Whatever the verdict, Bonds’ reputation has been ruined. And since U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and President Obama have said leagues—not governments—should police steroids, Novitzky’s crusade will likely end. And that leaves a question for the rest of us to ask: Was it really worth it?
Finally, after seven years, ESPN publishes a column in which the very questionable witch hunt of one of the top baseball players of all time is actually questioned. That’s some investigative unit they’ve got over the at the network.