Former prosecutor denies alerting McMahon to steroid probe
A former federal prosecutor denied today that he was the source of a tip that the government was investigating a doctor who sold steroids to professional wrestlers in the 1980s, as representatives for World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. alleged on Friday.
The former prosecutor, James J. West, was U.S. Attorney for the Middle District in Pennsylvania in 1989, and was leading the investigation of Dr. George T. Zahorian III for illegally distributing steroids, including to wrestlers at what was then the World Wrestling Federation.
After an attorney at K&L Gates, the firm that represents the wrestling company, learned that the investigation was underway, the company's CEO, Linda McMahon, directed an employee to alert Zahorian that he was under investigation, and allegedly instructed him to destroy evidence that would have connected him to wrestlers who performed for the WWF.
McMahon, now a leading candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in Connecticut, said this week she does not recall why she asked the underling to call the doctor and "clue him in" to the federal investigation. The McMahon campaign reiterated that when McMahon's husband, Vince, and their company were tried for steroid distribution and conspiracy in 1994, they were acquitted on the only charge that went to the jury.
After The Day and Politico each published accounts of McMahon's memo on Friday, representatives from the WWE said that West, the former federal prosecutor, was the unnamed official in McMahon's memo who alerted a lawyer from the wrestling company's law firm that Zahorian was under investigation.
In addition to working at wrestling events conducted by the WWF, Zahorian also provided Vince McMahon himself with steroids, as attorneys for the defense acknowledged during the McMahon/WWF trial in 1994.
In an interview on Saturday, however, West flatly denied he would have alerted an attorney from the firm that represented the wrestling company that Zahorian was under investigation -- especially as the tip-off occurred months before federal authorities finished conducting controlled purchases of steroids from Zahorian and then moved in to make an arrest.
"Absolutely nothing like that would have occurred," said West, who is now an attorney in private practice in Pennsylvania.
When a reporter read the relevant portions of McMahon's memo to West, he again said he would not have passed on such information. The memo's assertion that the lawyer connected to WWF, Jack Krill, learned of the investigation at a fundraising event also made West doubt the company's claim that he was the source.
If the fundraiser in question was a political event, West, then a court-appointed federal prosecutor, would have been barred from attending it, he said.
"I can say that without equivocation," he said.
WWF officials and wrestlers would have learned of the Zahorian prosecution, he said, but only in the course of the investigation, when officials began issuing subpoenas to wrestlers who had allegedly acquired drugs from the doctor.
And while McMahon's memo is dated Dec. 1, 1989, contemporary accounts of the Zahorian investigation show that authorities continued to conduct controlled purchases from Zahorian, through an undercover informant, until March 27, 1990, the day the doctor was arrested.
Prosecutors would not have tipped off anyone about their probe before that date, West said on Saturday.
"Not at that point in time," he said, referring to the date of McMahon's memo. "When it would have come out is when the World Wrestling Federation would have been made knowledgeable by their own members, when subpoenas were being issued."
Messages seeking comment were left Saturday with spokesmen for the WWE and the McMahon campaign.
UPDATE: A WWE spokesman said in a phone interview today that the company stands by its previous statement, and that West was the source of the tip about the Zahorian investigation.