Over the Line? Critics Conflicted on Steroids Crusader

All the while, the buzz grew. Teams of reporters were assigned to follow the investigation. Hordes of attorneys began appearing on TV, defending the many high-profile athletes caught in Novitzky's net -- Tim Montgomery, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Dana Stubblefield, Shane Mosely. For a federal agent used to working in anonymity, this was unfamiliar territory.

Just how Novitzky's negotiated this new territory is a matter of debate, and sure to be at the heart of the Bonds defense strategy. Catlin and his peers in the anti-doping world call Novitzky a hero, crediting him with pushing the government to enact tougher steroid laws and harsher sentences for those who break them. "Game of Shadows," the bestseller written by the two San Francisco Chronicle writers assigned to the Balco story, casts Novitzky as the good cop determined to bring lawbreakers to justice. The New York Times offered a glowing assessment of his work in a front page profile last November, calling him a later day Elliot Ness and declaring that Novitzky "persuaded people to save themselves by helping him -- without ever raising his voice."

But others haven't always been so sure about him. In June of 2004, Novitzky walked into the office of the Treasury inspector general for tax administration in Oakland, his lawyer by his side. A former member of Novitzky's team, Iran White, had raised questions about the Balco investigation in a May 2004 Playboy magazine article. And there had been a series of leaks to the media about confidential details of the investigation. The IRS watchdogs, an independent agency reporting to the Treasury secretary, needed answers.

Novitzky knew White -- they'd worked together years earlier to bust a computer chip smuggling ring run by the Crips gang. For the Balco investigation, Novitzky asked White to get close to Anderson and wear a wire in hopes the trainer would implicate the Giants slugger. But White suffered a stroke after one grueling weightlifting session with the trainer, ending his operation just before the Balco raid. White later told Playboy that Novitzky had a longstanding vendetta against Bonds and that he talked openly during the investigation about cashing in with a book deal.

Novitzky told the watchdogs that talk of a book deal had been in jest -- though he could see how his words "might have been misconstrued." He told them he had talked to a few reporters but never about the case, and he had no idea why White thought he was out to get Bonds.

The IRS agents had one other matter to discuss. Novitzky had confiscated $66,923 from a locked safe when he raided Anderson's apartment soon after the Balco raid. All of the money had been placed in an IRS safe, then transferred to a bank. Novitzky was one of three agents who had handled the money. Now $600 was missing, and they had to ask him why. Novitzky claimed no knowledge of the missing evidence. Five months later, the IRS issued a report clearing Novitzky of any wrongdoing, with the question of the missing $600 left unanswered.

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