Jail Time for Barry Bonds?
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 01, 2005

POSSIBLY AS AN expression of wishful thinking, some writers have suggested lately that Barry Bonds will go to prison for (1) Income tax evasion, because he allegedly failed to report earnings from card shows; and/or (2) lying to a grand jury about his steroids use, thus setting himself up for a perjury charge.

Neither scenario is likely. Let’s take them individually:

--The income tax evasion charge comes from his former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, who claims Bonds told her that he was using the money from the card shows to set her up with an apartment, instead of drawing from his salary.

Pardon me, but Ms. Bell is not a terribly credible witness. For one thing, she says that Bonds told her the truth about his money and his use of steroids but lied to her about their relationship. Hello! For another, she's trying to sell a book, and it isn’t her name that will sell it.

Even if her statement is true, that Bonds did use money that he did not declare as income, it doesn’t mean that he’ll go to jail. Other baseball players have been caught in this, including Duke Snider and Darryl Strawberry, and they’ve been fined heavily and usually given suspended sentences.

The IRS has used tax evasion charges as a way to get serious criminals, going back to Al Capone, that they couldn’t nail on regular charges. For others, they like to assess heavy fines which bring maximum publicity, so lesser fry like us will be scared and pay our taxes. It serves no purpose for the Federal government if Bonds is in jail that wouldn’t be realized by having him simply pay.

The Martha Stewart case isn’t a parallel. The government hoped to set an example of Stewart by scaring other inside traders, and if you think that worked, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. Indeed, the Feds accomplished the seemingly impossible in making Stewart a sympathetic character, while simultaneously boosting her net worth. I don’t think even the Feds could make Bonds sympathetic, but I also don’t think they’ll try.

THE POSSIBILITY of a perjury charge against Bonds is even less likely.

Attorneys will tell you that a prosecuting attorney seldom pursues a charge of perjury because it’s the most difficult to prove. In this case, Bonds admitted to the grand jury that he had taken steroids but said they came in the form of a cream and he didn’t know what ingredients were in the cream.

It defies logic that Bonds, who follows a rigid diet and exercise program, wouldn’t be curious about what he was being given, but it would be very difficult to prove that. Even if Ms. Bell were willing to testify that Bonds told her he knew what he was taking, it would be a case of he said, she said. A prosecutor wouldn't bother.

Add to that the fact that the prosecution in the BALCO case seems to be after Victor Conte, the alleged dispenser of steroids, and not the athletes. Jason Giambi admitted taking steroids in his testimony and has since “apologized” to Yankee fans. There’s been no threat of prosecution. Jeremy Giambi has admitted taking steroids, and a fat lot of good it did him, but there’s been no move against him.

Because he’s taken a “me against the world” stance in his news conferences, some have speculated that Bonds challenged the Federal prosecutors in his grand jury testimony. I doubt that. Bonds can modify his behavior if it’s important – you can bet that he isn’t surly to Giants owner Peter Magowan – and I’m sure butter wouldn’t have melted in his mouth during his grand jury testimony.

Occasionally, he will let his guard down and act like a human being around reporters, but those instances are becoming rarer. His public news conferences have become exercises in self-pity, as if he can’t understand why he’s gotten so much critical examination. Apparently, he’s never looked in the mirror.

Who knows why he’s this way. He’s hinted it’s because of the way his father, Bobby, was treated by the media. I can’t speak for the treatment Bobby got in other cities, but I know that he was a favorite of writers here because, unlike his more famous son, he was always willing to talk to reporters. When he returned to the Giants as hitting coach in the ‘90s, he was still very approachable.

SO, THE BEAT goes on. In my nearly half-century in journalism, I have never seen an athlete who has been so reviled by so many in the media.

His news conferences seem staged, with Barry acting whatever role he chooses for the day, but because he refuses to open up, there is endless speculation. At least one writer speculated that, by insisting that his son be with him when pictures were taken at the last news conference, he was telling people that he would walk away at the end of the season and forego his chance to break Hank Aaron’s career home run record.

I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe that he’ll be going to jail, but that kind of speculation is inevitable when an athlete arouses such bitter feelings in those following him that they’re unable to reconcile their feelings with the facts.

NOTE TO READERS: For those of you living in the Bay Area, I am a guest panelist for “The Last Honest Sports Show” on Channel 44 Saturday night. Check the TV listings for times. I’ll also be a guest on Marty Lurie’s “Right Off the Bat” show on KFRC at 11:50 a.m. Saturday before the A’s-Giants game.

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