SAN FRANCISCO — An attorney who admitted leaking the confidential grand jury testimony of Barry Bonds and other athletes to a reporter was sentenced Thursday to 2 1/2 years in prison, by far the harshest penalty to result from the government's sprawling probe of steroids in sports.
Troy Ellerman, 44, pleaded guilty in February to allowing a San Francisco Chronicle reporter to view transcripts of testimony by Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and other athletes embroiled in the steroids investigation. He initially blamed federal investigators for leaking the testimony.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White approved Ellerman's latest deal with prosecutors about a month after rejecting a plea agreement that called for a prison term of 15 to 24 months. White harshly criticized that sentence as too lenient.
Ellerman's new deal called for up to two years, nine months in prison. White opted for a slightly shorter sentence but required Ellerman to give 10 speeches on conduct to law students. He did not assess a fine.
"This affected, and infected, every aspect of the judicial system," White said.
Ellerman was a successful Sacramento attorney when Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, hired him after a raid of the Burlingame nutritional supplements lab by federal agents.
He also later served as the attorney for BALCO Vice President James Valente, and it was while he was representing Valente that he allowed reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada to read the players' grand jury testimony, according to the plea agreement.
Fainaru-Wada and fellow reporter Lance Williams published stories in 2004 reporting that Giambi and others had admitted using steroids. Bonds and Sheffield testified they didn't knowingly take the drugs. The leaked testimony was featured prominently in the reporters' book "Game of Shadows," which recounts the alleged steroid use of Bonds, who is just five home runs away from breaking Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.
A friend and former private investigator in Ellerman's law firm reported him to authorities after they had a falling out.
Ellerman pleaded guilty to four felony counts of obstruction of justice and related charges, and federal prosecutors dropped their case against the two reporters, who had faced up to 18 months in prison for refusing to divulge the source of the leak.
Valente and Conte earlier pleaded guilty to steroids-related charges, along with chemist Patrick Arnold, Bonds' personal trainer and track coach Remi Korchemny.