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Agent of Change

June 19, 2006
June 19, 2006

Table of Contents
June 19, 2006

SI Bonus Section: Golf Plus
SI Players: Life On and Off the Field
Features
Features
  • Two games into the Finals there was a hole in the middle of the Heat offense where Shaq usually reigns supreme. The Mavericks used all their 7-footers to gang up on the Diesel and shut him down

Life of Reilly
  • English fans sing to their star, "There'sonly one Michael Owen." After a fellow Brit was rumored to be schizophrenic, opposing fans chanted, "There's only two Andy Gorams."

Departments

Agent of Change

League officials and politicians talk a good game, but an IRS investigator is doing the most to keep sports clean

On one jolting daylast week, baseball went from hoping its steroid crisis was fading toconfronting another season consumed by drug talk. This was after federal agentsdescended on the home of Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley, literallyknocking down his door to begin what became a six-hour raid.

This is an article from the June 19, 2006 issue Original Layout

The shock of theraid was compounded by a court document made public that day: In a confessionon April 19, Grimsley admitted to agents that he had used banned drugsthroughout his career. He also said that after he tested dirty in baseball'sfirst steroids program in 2003, he switched to human growth hormone."Boatloads" of players use banned drugs, he said. He added thatamphetamines were "like aspirin," saying he had seen clubhouses thatdosed coffee with them and labeled the pot "leaded." The pitcher alsonamed names, allegedly identifying at least half a dozen players as users ofbanned substances. (Grimsley has since denied volunteering any playeridentities to agents; all names were redacted from the document.) He also namedhis drug dealer and a trainer who helped him make his connections.

So the era ofperformance-enhancing drugs wasn't over after all. When the news broke,Grimsley was released by Arizona and was more famous than he had ever been, andthe baseball world was trying to figure out whom he had fingered. But the mostintriguing player in the drama may be the IRS agent who led the raid, a38-year-old former athlete and sports fan named Jeff Novitzky, who is livingout so many people's fantasies by busting some of the biggest drug cheats insports.

In the past fouryears Novitzky, a wiry, 6'7" Bay Area native with a shaved head, has cast awide net. He led the September 2003 raids on BALCO and the home of BarryBonds's trainer, Greg Anderson, and induced BALCO founder Victor Conte toconfess to allegedly dealing steroids to Bonds and 26 other athletes. Contedenied making the statement, but the probe sparked the biggest doping scandalin U.S. history, ensnaring Bonds and Yankees star Jason Giambi, among manyothers.

In North Carolina,Novitzky reached former shot put champion C.J. Hunter, who told the agent aboutalleged drug use by his ex-wife, Olympic superstar Marion Jones, another BALCOclient. (Jones denied the charge.) The agent also tracked down Kimberly Bell,the former girlfriend to whom Bonds allegedly confided his use of steroids, andmade her a federal witness.

In 2005 Novitzkyserved as a witness in two cases brought by the United States Anti-DopingAgency against track athletes caught up in the BALCO scandal. Last fall he ledraids on the Champaign, Ill., laboratory and home of Patrick Arnold, thechemist who created BALCO's steroid known as "the clear" and laterpleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids.

More recentlyNovitzky traveled to New York City to interview a woman thought to haveinsights into Bonds's alleged receipt of cash from memorabilia sales, accordingto a source familiar with the agent's activities. He also has been lining upwitnesses for a grand jury probe aimed at determining if Bonds committedperjury when he testified in 2003 that he had never knowingly used banneddrugs.

The IRS has beenthe lead agency in the probe because at its core, BALCO is a money launderingcase. Novitzky can't discuss his work, but it's known that he shares fans'disgust with steroid users, and he is not afraid to get his hands dirty.Novitzky has trailed suspected drug dealers into the players' parking lot atthe Giants' ballpark and gone through their garbage. As a result he is doingwhat baseball commissioner Bud Selig, the players' union and perhaps evenquasi-independent investigator George Mitchell can't (or won't) do: He'sforcing baseball to confront its Steroid Era.

Novitzky knowssports from the inside out. His father, Don, coached high school basketball forthree decades. At Mills High in Millbrae, about two miles from where Contewould later do business, Novitzky starred in track and basketball: He clearedseven feet as a high jumper and made the All--Central Coast Section basketballteam as a senior.

He earned apartial track scholarship to Arizona but returned to the Bay Area to playbasketball, first at Skyline College, a J.C. with a strong program, and then atSan Jose State. But because of knee problems, his career stats wereunmemorable: two games, four points, two rebounds. His coach, Stan Morrison,recalls him as smart, clean-cut and driven, "a really mature guy [who] knewwhere he was going in life."

After graduatingwith an accounting degree, he was hired by the IRS-CI, as the investigativedivision is called, and worked a series of drug probes. Before BALCO his workintersected the world of sports only once: in February 2002 he was assigned toa security detail at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The government hasbeen coy about how Novitzky, who is married and lives in the Bay Area, came totarget BALCO. But one defense lawyer in the case got personal, describingNovitzky as a "failed athlete" who was "jealous of all theattention Bonds received." In the antidoping community, though, Novitzky isviewed as a savior. Dr. Don Catlin, the UCLA scientist credited with detectingthe previously undetectable "clear" at the heart of BALCO, callsNovitzky "my hero."

The governmentsays Novitzky is just doing his job. But as the last person a cheater wants tosee, he has emerged as one of the most influential figures in the war onperformance-enhancing drugs.

Mark Fainaru-Wadaand Lance Williams are reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle and theauthors of Game of Shadows.

''Despite his coach's warning, Roethlisberger rodewithout a helmet''  --FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 23
ILLUSTRATIONILLUSTRATION BY JOHN CUNEO