Lies to cover up crime often draw charges

By Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – The high-profile cases of pitching great Roger Clemens and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich highlight a well-worn strategy by prosecutors: if you can’t bust them for the crime, try nailing them for lying about it.

Prosecutors often charge suspects with making false statements to investigators in part because that is often easier to prove than the more serious allegations and can be used to elicit help from witnesses, especially in corruption and terrorism cases.

Clemens, whose storied professional baseball career included a record seven Cy Young Awards for best pitcher, was indicted on Thursday for perjury, making false statements and obstructing a congressional investigation into players using performance-enhancing drugs. If convicted on all charges, he could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

He has denied the charges he lied to Congress and will face a trial likely next year.

“The United States is sending a message that you must tell the truth to the government — FBI, Congress, et cetera — and if not, we will prosecute you,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia.

Clemens is in trouble not for alleged steroid use, but for what prosecutors charged was his failure to tell the truth in testifying under oath to a congressional committee that he never used drugs to boost his performance.

“Our government cannot function if witnesses are not held accountable for false statements made before Congress,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who brought the charges against Clemens.

Clemens was the latest sports figure charged with lying about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, a scandal that has tarnished other sports, including running and cycling.

Former U.S. sprinter and Olympic medalist Marion Jones spent six months in a federal prison for lying to prosecutors about using steroids and was later stripped of five medals, including three Olympic golds.

Major League Baseball career home run leader Barry Bonds is expected to go on trial next year on charges he lied to a federal grand jury about using steroids from a California laboratory. He has pleaded not guilty.

LYING AS CRUX OF CASE

The case is the latest in a series where an accusation of lying became the crux of the case.

In 2005, prosecutors investigating who leaked the identity of a CIA agent ended up only bringing perjury charges against then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s closest aide, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was never charged for the leak itself.

Earlier this year, a New York Muslim cleric was charged and later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Najibullah Zazi, who was convicted of trying to blow up the New York subway system.

Blagojevich was convicted earlier this week for making false statements to FBI agents probing whether tried to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. The jury could not reach a verdict on the main corruption charges.

Among the most prominent perjury convictions was that of former State Department official Alger Hiss, convicted in a celebrated 1950 espionage-related trial. Lying to a grand jury was among the charges for which President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. He was acquitted by the Senate.

While perjury can sometimes be hard to prove, Joshua Berman, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney, said of the Clemens case, “The prosecution must have ‘real proof’ in order to even consider bringing a case like this, and that proof likely includes forensic evidence and live witnesses, rather than just hearsay.”

Another law professor said the Clemens case was a bit more straightforward than other cases involving performance-enhancing drugs, as a former strength coach has alleged he injected Clemens with steroids, while former teammate Andy Pettitte has said Clemens told him he used human growth hormone.

“It is perfectly fair to bust Clemens for the real crime of lying to Congress, not as collateral matter,” said Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University and director of the school’s Criminal Justice Center.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

Lies to cover up crime often draw charges