The FBI has confirmed a Yahoo.com report that it is investigating Troy Ellerman, commissioner of the locally based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, for possibly leaking grand jury testimony to the press in the ongoing Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids saga. Ellerman, a defense attorney, represented BALCO founder Victor Conte Jr. and vice president James Valente at times during a trial that linked world-class athletes to performance-enhancing drug use.
"We do have an investigation on those allegations that [Ellerman] was responsible for the leak," FBI spokesman Joe Schadler told the Associated Press last week. Messages to Schadler left by the Independent on Tuesday went unreturned by deadline.
Leaked grand jury testimony fueled perhaps the scandal's biggest story to date: that Major League Baseball star Barry Bonds testified he "unknowingly" used steroids provided by his trainer in 2003. Following that and other stories coming to light, a federal judge made all those who were privy to grand jury material including Ellerman sign statements asserting that they had kept the material private.
San Francisco Chronicle reporters who wrote the aforementioned Bonds story, other newspaper stories and a bestselling book, Game of Shadows, using the leaked information currently face up to 18 months in prison for refusing to reveal the leaker's name. It is unclear how their sentences, which currently are under appeal, would be affected if the FBI charges Ellerman.
While credited with eliminating a reported $3.6 million in debt in his first two years with the PRCA, Ellerman has created controversy, too. Last year, he spearheaded an aborted attempt to move the ProRodeo Hall of Fame from Colorado Springs to New Mexico. This summer, he cut off the Springs-based Women's Professional Rodeo Association from a major rodeo event (csindy.com/csindy/2006-09-07/news.html), a development that contributed to the women's organization filing a lawsuit against the PRCA. And, according to Yahoo!, a California calf-roper claiming to represent nearly 800 disgruntled PRCA members filed an unrelated suit against the association in October.
Larry McCormack, a longtime associate of Ellerman who recently was fired by the PRCA, told Yahoo! he tipped off the FBI. Ellerman refused to talk to Yahoo! about the allegations and didn't return an Independent phone call by deadline.
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, PRCA board chairman Tom Feller echoed a sentiment he put forth in a press release last week. "The majority of our board stands behind Troy's leadership," Feller said. Adding that the BALCO investigation was unrelated to PRCA business, Feller refused further comment.