Ex-prosecutor says McMahon camp wrong on WWF warning
A former federal prosecutor on Saturday denied a claim that he tipped off lawyers for the World Wrestling Federation that a doctor who was selling steroids to some of its performers was under investigation by the government.
The former prosecutor, James J. West, was U.S. Attorney for the Middle District in Pennsylvania in 1989, when he led an investigation into whether Dr. George T. Zahorian III illegally distributed steroids, including some to wrestlers at the WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment.
Zahorian later was convicted of the distribution charges and served as a witness in the unsuccessful prosecution of Vince McMahon and Titan Sports, the company that operated the WWF.
Company representatives identified West as the source of the leak late Friday, after The Day and Politico published reports showing what Linda McMahon - the former WWE CEO and current Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut - did with that information.
In a December 1989 memo to an associate, McMahon said the company should cut ties to Zahorian, and should also "clue him in" that a Justice Department investigation was under way.
But West, in an interview on Saturday, flatly denied being the source of the inside information.
"Absolutely nothing like that would have occurred," said West, who is now an attorney in private practice in Pennsylvania. He repeatedly said he would never have alerted an outside entity, particularly an attorney whose company represented Titan Sports, while still in the early stages of the investigation.
In a phone interview, however, a WWE representative said the company stands by its account, saying it had been confirmed by K&L Gates, the longtime law firm for Titan whose partner, Jack Krill, said West told him about the Zahorian probe at a fundraising event.
"I'm sure that it's difficult for Mr. West to remember what happened 21 years ago, but we stand by what we told you yesterday," said the spokesman, Robert Zimmerman.
The publication of McMahon's memo reinforced her personal involvement in the steroid scandal that hit her husband, Vince, and the company they ran in the 1990s - and which ultimately ended in the dismissal of the steroid-distribution charges and a total acquittal on a charge of conspiracy.
The memo triggered an aggressive response from McMahon's chief rival for the Republican nomination, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, who sharply condemned it in a statement relayed by an aide on Saturday.
"It is clear Linda McMahon employed Dr. Zahorian for the purpose of illegally distributing steroids to her performers and her husband," Simmons said. "Upon learning of an investigation, she engaged in a coverup to undermine a criminal investigation and potentially obstruct justice."
Simmons said the 1994 trial of Vince McMahon and Titan Sports, the family company that operated the WWF, might have ended differently if not for McMahon's memo.
"It is entirely possible that if her tip led to the destruction of key evidence then the case could have turned out differently," Simmons said. "There is no other reason to have written this memo."
McMahon's spokesman, Ed Patru, denounced Simmons' remarks, saying they ignored the result of the McMahon/Titan trial, which was a victory for the defendants and a high-profile and embarrassing defeat for prosecutors.
"What has happened to Rob Simmons since he lost his lead in this race is truly sad," Patru said in an e-mail message. "He is losing it.
"The fact is there was never a charge of obstruction of justice and every charge that was made was summarily rejected by either a judge or a jury and Simmons knows that but will say anything to win a vote, no matter how outrageous or irresponsible," Patru continued. "This memo was seen by a jury, together with all of the government's evidence, and the jury ruled against the government and in favor of the defense."
Kept on board
Zahorian, who has declined interview requests, was initially appointed by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission to attend World Wrestling Federation events. After the state's wrestling regulations were changed in the late 1980s, former WWF executive Anita Scales told The Day she attempted to dismiss Zahorian over concerns about steroids, but was initially overruled by Linda McMahon and fellow Titan executive Pat Patterson, the latter of whom explained by saying that the wrestlers needed Zahorian in order to obtain "candy," a slang term for steroids.
McMahon's memo says Krill learned of the federal investigation at a fundraising event from an official at the State Department, though WWE officials now say she meant to refer to West, the federal prosecutor who was overseeing the Zahorian prosecution.
Prosecutors in the McMahon steroids trial alleged that Patterson, after receiving McMahon's memo, phoned Zahorian and told him to destroy evidence that would have connected him to wrestlers who performed for the WWF.
McMahon, who is leading Simmons in recent polling, said this week she does not recall why she asked the underling to call the doctor and "clue him in" to the federal 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/Titan trial in 1994.
But West flatly denied he would have alerted an attorney from the firm that represented the wrestling company that Zahorian was under investigation - especially since the tip-off occurred months before federal authorities finished conducting controlled purchases of steroids from Zahorian and then moved in to make an arrest.
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 West gave the tip "at a recent fundraiser" was dubious, he said.
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," West 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, including an internal newsletter from the Food and Drug Administration that documented the case, 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 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."
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