A federal appeals court in San Francisco today upheld the perjury conviction of a former championship cyclist who lied to a grand jury during the BALCO sports steroids probe.
Tammy Thomas, 40, was one of 30 professional athletes summoned to testify in 2003 before a federal grand jury investigating the sale of performance-enhancing drugs by the Burlingame-based Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO.
In 2008, she was convicted of three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for telling the panel she never took anabolic steroids and never received illegal products from chemist Patrick Arnold, who worked with BALCO.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston sentenced her to six months of home confinement and five years of probation.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the conviction today.
The court rejected Thomas’ claim that her convictions should be overturned because her answers to questions before the grand jury were literally truthful.
Thomas claimed her statement that she never received illegal products from Arnold was literally true because she received the items from his girlfriend.
She also said her statement that she never took any products Arnold gave her was true because he sold rather than gave them to her.
Circuit Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the court ruling that “a reasonable jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt” that Thomas understood the questions and answered falsely.
On another issue, the panel upheld Illston’s decision to allow trial testimony about alleged side effects of the drugs, including excessive hairiness.
The court said, “Evidence of the physical effects of Thomas’s alleged testosterone ingestion was highly material to the issue of whether Thomas knowingly used steroids.”
Thomas won a silver medal in a cycling competition in Belgium in 2001, but was banned from competition for life in 2002 after tests showed she had used norbolethone, a then-obscure steroid. At the time of her conviction, she was a law student in Oklahoma.
Her defense attorney was not available for comment on today’s ruling, which could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thomas was one of 11 people indicted on charges of sports drug distribution or perjury in connection with BALCO. All have been convicted or pleaded guilty except for former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, whose perjury case is still pending.