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Larry McCormack figured the FBI owed him a favor. He’d sold out his friend to the agents, and even wore a wire to help them prove that Troy Ellerman was the long-sought leaker in the BALCO steroids case. In return, McCormack asked them not to move in on Ellerman until the big rodeo was over. They obliged, and on Dec. 10, the day after the National Finals Rodeo ended, McCormack and Ellerman sat down in a steakhouse at the far end of the Las Vegas strip for their last meal together.Ellerman, a former criminal defense lawyer who was then head of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, talked about the future. “Troy was talking about all the stuff he wanted me to do with the PRCA,” McCormack said recently. “And I’m wishing these things are really going to happen.” McCormack said the entire 10 days the two men spent in Vegas were “bittersweet.” The morning after that steak dinner, he said goodbye to Ellerman and got on the road. He knew the feds were waiting. “It wasn’t a half-hour after we left that they called and said they were going to approach Troy.” Two months later, on a Tuesday afternoon, McCormack was still uneasy about it. “I hope there’s no one here who wants to kill me,” he said, scanning the sparse post-lunch crowd at a TGI Friday’s in the shadow of Pikes Peak. But McCormack — in his suburban cowboy get-up of plaid shirt, riding boots and pressed jeans — sat with his back to the door. He was really just worried about dirty looks from former co-workers at the nearby Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, where Ellerman made him executive director after leaving California and criminal defense for rodeo. McCormack wears the burden of being a snitch with a mix of guilt, pride, and indignation as the man who exposed the man who exposed steroids in baseball. It’s a role the ex-cop and former private eye was still getting used to. After a lunch of sizzling chicken and shrimp — and back in the deer-infested subdivision where he shares a ranch house with his wife, mother, and three truculent Jack Russells — McCormack went right to his basement office. He’s been spending a good amount of time at his computer, reading online about the fallout from Ellerman’s plea deal a week earlier. “You know how this is going to play out,” McCormack said, turning away from the message board on the screen. “Troy’s the hero who saved baseball, and I’m the guy who ratted him out.” �THE CREAM’ When the federal investigation of BALCO, a Burlingame, Calif., steroids lab, became public in 2003, it was immediately a big case in the San Francisco federal building. But it became a much bigger deal in the summer of 2004, when grand-jury testimony from athletes about their steroid use made it into the San Francisco Chronicle. The news stories turned public attention away from the maker of “the clear” and “the cream” at the heart of the criminal probe, and toward the athlete witnesses who gave testimony under the promise of immunity — and confidentiality. That’s who the public really cared about, and reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams capitalized on it with a series of stories in the Chronicle, and eventually in a book, quoting extensively from those transcripts. Their work spurred Major League Baseball and Congress to start their own drug investigations. But the more immediate effect was an annoyed Judge Susan Illston, who ordered an investigation of the leaks. More than two years of finger-pointing among defense lawyers and prosecutors followed, with nearly everyone in the case filing sworn statements that they were not responsible for the leaks. But Ellerman went a step further: In 2004, he filed a motion to dismiss the case based on “outrageous government conduct,” implying that the government was responsible for leaks. The way people involved with the case tell it, trouble was inevitable for Ellerman, a state court brawler from the Central Valley thrown into San Francisco’s clubby federal building and into a case of national dimensions. �IMPULSIVE, CRAZY THINGS’ Working from an office near Sacramento County Superior Court that they shared with a process server, Ellerman and McCormack specialized in textbook state court cases. Sex offenses, drug deals, and violent crimes were the bulk of their practice, even after Ellerman got onto the Sacramento federal court’s appointed-counsel panel. From 1998, when they met, to the end of 2004, the men worked cases together, sharing an office and, at times, a home. Ellerman had the cocksure defensiveness of a man who’d grown up riding trick horses — wearing “tights and a white hat,” he said in a 2006 interview with a rodeo publication — in a macho world of bull riders and steer wrestlers. When McCormack first met Ellerman, the lawyer struck him as over the top. “His hair, you know that style where they have it all shaved on the sides with that little cow pie on top?” McCormack said. “It was curly and dyed blond, and I said �Who’s this dumb ass?’” As Ellerman began losing his hair, he shaved his head and sprouted a patch of whiskers beneath his lower lip. In court, he showed a taste for flashy suits and conflict. Former Ellerman associates, including McCormack, said the lawyer’s general strategy when it came to conflict — in court, in business, and in BALCO — was to try to shake his opponents, which he did with mischievous enthusiasm. “When you ask him why he does what he does, he says �just to fuck with you,’” said Jason Adams, a former Rodeo Association employee who left after a fallout with Ellerman. “It comes down to a common thread,” McCormack said. “What he’s done in this case and his personal life and everything: getting them off their games. That’s his entire way of dealing with things.” Ellerman wouldn’t comment for this story — his Sacramento attorney, Scott Tedmon, said he won’t talk until after his June 14 sentencing — but Ellerman did have two PRCA allies call to say he was an effective and well-liked leader. Two assistant U.S. attorneys said they generally had a fine time dealing with Ellerman in Sacramento federal court. “He seemed like a stand-up kind of guy,” said one of them, Richard Bender, who faced off with Ellerman several times. But in the less-formal state court setting, McCormack said, Ellerman liked to let loose. “He would make comments to DAs to piss them off,” McCormack said. “He’d be up there cross-examining a police officer, and he’d intentionally mispronounce his name.” Recalling other incidents, including a scuffle in an elevator between Ellerman and an opposing civil litigant, McCormack says he enjoyed the excitement. “I loved the guy,” he said. “I’m telling you, I did. He just did crazy things like that. Impulsive, crazy things.” �WE LIVED THE CASES’ The detective is now 60, 16 years older than Ellerman, with white hair, fading blue eyes, and a cowboy mustache that droops lower on one side than the other. A soft-spoken Vietnam vet on his third marriage, he’s of a calmer temperament than the lawyer. He’d backed into private investigations after a short stint in law enforcement, and by the mid-1990s, was trying to get out. McCormack tried going to law school, but dropped out in 1996, and a few years later found himself working almost exclusively for Ellerman. For a time in 1999 and 2000, when McCormack and his wife lived in Hanford, he would commute to Sacramento weekly, sharing an apartment with Ellerman from Monday to Friday. “We worked strategy together,” McCormack said. “We lived the cases.” By the beginning of 2005, when the two men left California together, their relationship was so solid, McCormack said, that Ellerman couldn’t imagine the PI would air his secrets. “I guess it goes back to the idea that he thought I’d never do that,” McCormack said. “And I did.” �A COUPLE OF SPEEDING TICKETS’ Ellerman and McCormack lurched into the BALCO case pretty much by chance. The stage was set in 2001, when Ellerman represented a teenager accused of selling cocaine in rural Placer County. A woman in her early 20s was on a date with the client when he was arrested, McCormack said, and prosecutors threatened to charge her, too. McCormack didn’t think Alicia Conte had any real criminal exposure. But since she hadn’t hired a lawyer, he told Ellerman he was worried that prosecutors would persuade her to testify. “I didn’t want her to roll over on our client,” he said, so he suggested Ellerman represent Conte, too. In the end, prosecutors didn’t pursue a case against her, McCormack said. “After that, Troy and her became good friends,” he said. So in September 2003, when Victor’s was raided by federal agents, it was natural for Alicia Conte to recommend one of the few attorneys she knew. “Apparently,” Victor Conte said in an interview, “Troy had helped her with a couple of speeding tickets in the Sacramento area.” According to a case memo McCormack prepared in 2003, he and Ellerman drove down to Burlingame two weeks after the BALCO raid, to meet with Conte and BALCO Vice President James Valente. Over lunch, as Ellerman ate a piece of key lime pie, McCormack took notes — not easy, he said, when Conte’s on a roll. “One of the things about Victor is that he can say in 100 words what he could say in one,” McCormack said. Conte’s biggest worry that day wasn’t drugs, but money he’d handed out to athletes to wear the BALCO logo at public events. “One of his real concerns was that he would take money out in cash and he couldn’t verify it,” McCormack said. At lunch that day, it seemed that Conte was as bedazzled by the athletes as any fan. “He was just dropping names like Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, blah blah blah,” he said. The two got to work on the case, but McCormack soon got into a fee dispute with Conte. “We had a blowup over that,” he said, and he stopped work on the case. Ellerman brought in another Sacramento lawyer, Robert Holley, to represent Conte, while he continued representing Valente. As the BALCO story gained publicity, it occurred to many in the federal bar that a Sacramento state court specialist was a strange choice for a white-collar case brought in San Francisco federal court. “There is a huge difference, I’ve learned, between a lawyer that practices federal law and a lawyer that practices state law,” Conte said last month. “I had never been in trouble in my life,” Conte added, “and I didn’t understand that.” He does now. Conte was shepherded through the interview by the two lawyers who now represent him: Mary McNamara and Edward Swanson, both former federal public defenders whose San Francisco firm specializes in federal white-collar cases. After McCormack stopped working on Conte’s case, he said he didn’t pay close attention to it. Then he met the Chronicle‘s Fainaru-Wada. �JUST CHILL’ McCormack doesn’t remember exactly when he ate lunch with Ellerman and the reporter. In a letter last August to FBI agents, he said it was sometime in the early summer of 2004. McCormack had plans that day to meet Ellerman at their regular lunch spot, by their office on downtown Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Plaza. At Cafe Soleil (“sole-eel,” McCormack calls it), Ellerman showed up with a companion. “To me, it was like this is probably another attorney on the case or something like that,” McCormack said. “I didn’t know who the hell the guy was. Troy said �I’m giving him information.’” Fainaru-Wada was a good lunch date, McCormack said, likeable — the kind of guy you’d help out if you could. After lunch, McCormack said, Fainaru-Wada accompanied the two men back to their office, where he spent several hours hand-copying grand-jury transcripts. McCormack said he didn’t give it much thought until June 24, when he was driving through town with his wife, Lori. A report came on the radio that the feds were going to investigate how grand-jury testimony made it into that day’s Chronicle. He called Ellerman immediately, and they convened at an In ‘N’ Out. “I said, �Troy, I heard they’re doing a full-scale investigation on the BALCO jury leaks, and I want to know why you dragged me into this,’” McCormack said. “And he says �just chill.’ That’s his favorite word.” McCormack left the meeting temporarily placated, but still concerned: He was on the scene when the leak was happening, and hadn’t done anything to stop it. The PI was OK with it for awhile. In 2005, he said, he, too, passed documents to Fainaru-Wada, though he said they had nothing to do with the grand jury. But McCormack and Ellerman clashed bitterly over the next two years, and, McCormack said, his anxiety about the leaks rose. By their last blowup, McCormack was wearing an FBI wire. �A MAJOR DIGRESSION’ With Ellerman not talking, his motives for leaking the transcripts remain a mystery. McCormack said the idea was to force the public to focus on the athletes, rather than the defendants. And when other lawyers began blaming the government, McCormack said, Ellerman felt forced to go along. McCormack argues that the strategy worked: The furious publicity around the case created an incentive for prosecutors to dispose of it quickly. Conte ended up serving just four months in prison, and Valente got probation — evidence, McCormack said, that Ellerman had gotten prosecutors “off their game.” But current and former assistant U.S. attorneys say the office never balked on the probe, and blame the short sentences on federal steroid statutes. The defense attorneys who took over the case say the grand-jury information flowing into the media made it tougher to negotiate plea deals, since prosecutors constantly questioned their good faith. “I have little doubt that the government’s perspective of both Victor Conte and James Valente was damaged seriously by the conduct,” said Ann Moorman, the Berkeley, Calif., lawyer who took over Valente’s case from Ellerman. Moorman said her client only found out that his former attorney was the leaker last month, and says he would have been better off without “a major digression in the case that drew the ire of the bench.” �LARRY’S A HIT MAN’ By the end of 2004, Ellerman’s bickering with Valente was getting to a point where both lawyer and client realized a split was inevitable. And in any event, Ellerman and McCormack were losing enthusiasm for criminal defense. “It was getting old, child molesters coming in, drug dealers, all that crap,” McCormack said. So, when the PRCA offered Ellerman a new job and about $200,000 a year, he jumped at the opportunity. Ellerman picked up and moved to Colorado, where he bought a big new house in a subdivision below the north flank of Pikes Peak and immersed himself in the troubled nonprofit. One of the first things he did was figure out a way to bring McCormack out. Ellerman needed someone he could trust to deal with sensitive HR issues in the organization, including the inevitable firings. So the private eye closed up shop, found a house in Colorado Springs, and started a job that made him a feared figure around PRCA headquarters. “Everyone says �Larry’s a hit man,’ and yeah, I was. When Troy told me to fire someone, I would,” he said. But a rift soon opened between them when Ellerman agreed to fire a longtime employee at the PI’s suggestion. McCormack had become convinced that the PRCA’s longtime chief financial officer, Pat McAteer, wasn’t handling HR and financial matters properly. McAteer’s firing put Ellerman in a tight spot, since it had angered one of the board’s most powerful members — and one of Ellerman’s key allies — Tom Feller. “I disagreed totally with the way it was done,” Feller said. “It was very disrespectful.” McCormack hired a woman he met at Starbucks to take over the controller duties. “She had great references,” McCormack said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t know there was a period of time she’d worked at the casino, and been charged with embezzlement,” he said. In June, McAteer called the PRCA. “He got his payback,” McCormack said. The former CFO let them know that his replacement had admitted to stealing more than $400,000 from the Gold Rush Casino in Cripple Creek, and would be headed to prison for six years. “That’s when everything went downhill between Troy and me,” McCormack said. He felt his boss’s reaction was overblown — especially since he knew Ellerman was hiding his own crimes in the BALCO case. “When Troy fired her, Troy was like holier than thou, and I was pissed, because I was like, �Troy, you’re facing more time than her on a felony deal,’” McCormack said. But the board was upset, and questioned McCormack’s judgment. “My flow of information from Troy almost came to a stop,” he said. “I wasn’t involved anymore, and Troy’s like, �What should I do now?’ And he throws me a bone and says, �Why don’t you take over the hall?’” In July 2005, McCormack was made head of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, owned by the PRCA. In an upscale Mexican restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs last month, two steer wrestlers sat down over nachos and iced tea to gloat. Leon Vick and Jason Adams say Ellerman “buffaloed” them and the rest of the PRCA with a series of business deals that got the organization into the black, but sold off some of its most valuable assets. “He didn’t get a warm fuzzy from me from the get-go,” Vick said. The men wore their black felt cowboy hats indoors that afternoon; when a reporter arrived, Vick was on his cell phone, Adams on his BlackBerry. Adams worked for the PRCA when he first butted heads with Ellerman, and Vick was a board member. They said the PRCA board’s mix of wranglers and businessmen is tough for any executive director to handle. “It’s a bunch of cowboys who know how to throw a farm animal down, versus a bunch of guys who know how to keep a business running,” Vick said. He clashed with Ellerman over business strategy from the beginning, but others in the organization — including current employees and former board members — remain loyal. “He was good for the PRCA,” said Tom Reeves, a former board member and champion saddle bronc rider. In 2006, Ellerman tried to move the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame to Albuquerque, N.M. “I was pissed,” McCormack said. “I thought, �My job’s done, I’ve lost my job.’” McCormack managed to block the move. A month later, in March, Ellerman took a trip to California and met with Fainaru-Wada, who gave him a copy of Game of Shadows for McCormack to read. “It hit me like a ton of bricks,” McCormack said, and he relayed that to Ellerman, who, he said, hadn’t read it. “I said, �It’s a pretty good book, but in the book, it says they’re coming after your ass.’” �THOSE BITCHES ARE TAPING ME!’ While the Albuquerque situation created a strain, financial and personnel pressures also weighed on McCormack, and his staffers at the Hall of Fame began complaining to Ellerman about him. McCormack says that was inevitable. “People might think I have a shitty attitude, but when you bring me in here and I fire 40 people in six months, they’re going to feel that way,” he said, adding that while Ellerman made the firing decisions, McCormack had to break the news. By July, the combination of the Hall of Fame’s increasingly problematic finances and personnel complaints spurred the PRCA board — and Ellerman — to begin disciplinary action. In a confidential July 5 letter signed by both men and obtained by The Recorder, Legal Times’ sister publication, Ellerman expressed several concerns. Ellerman wrote that one of McCormack’s subordinates heard him “refer to her and her co-workers as �small-minded territorial bitches.’” That was just before McCormack figured out why one of the workers had borrowed his digital voice recorder. “I woke up one morning, and I tell my wife, �Those bitches are taping me!’” he said. One phone conversation they recorded, he said, included a sarcastic remark that McCormack made to a friend after a blowout with his boss. As Ellerman put it in the disciplinary letter, one hall employee “specifically was concerned with a threat you made to kill me with a shovel.” McCormack was suspended from work for a week, and required to get a “fitness-for-duty” exam and a doctor’s note saying he didn’t pose a “risk of physical violence.” The rest of the document outlines prospective steps — counseling, behavioral changes — for McCormack to make over the next six months. But those steps would never be taken. In an effort to generate publicity for the hall, McCormack spent $140,000 on a two-day, 12-act concert in early August. Thunder at the Hall turned into a financial disaster when no one showed up; by the end of that month, the Hall of Fame board had voted to fire McCormack. Almost simultaneously, he hired a Sacramento attorney, Christopher Wing, to contact the FBI on his behalf. �WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?’ The agents followed up quickly and, McCormack said, couldn’t believe that the leaker was anyone other than Conte. They visited McCormack in Colorado Springs in September and taped him on the phone with Ellerman. Twice over the course of the month, he visited Ellerman’s office while wearing a wire. In a recorded conversation in the third week of September designed to draw Ellerman out, McCormack told him that investigators were circling. “I said, �Beside that, I talked to a lawyer about BALCO,’ and he went nuts, calling me a snitch,” McCormack said. “I said, �You did it, and I’m concerned about where I stand in it.’ He said, �You’re only concerned about yourself,’ and I said, �Hell, yeah.’” Not long after, agents approached Ellerman, but didn’t accuse him. They then wired McCormack up again, and recorded Ellerman admitting to the crimes, and saying he thought he’d be safe thanks to the reporters’ promise to stay mum. Later in the fall, McCormack said, the agents got mad when he refused to set up a conference call with Ellerman and Fainaru-Wada for fear of entrapping one or both of them. “The feds were not happy with the reporters,” he said. “I told them what a great guy I thought Mark was, and they didn’t share that opinion.” After that, the agents seemed to back off, and, despite the firing, Ellerman and McCormack started patching things up. McCormack began working full-time with a nonprofit called Cowboys for Kids that operates a camp in southern Colorado and brings an elaborately painted, wrangler-themed Harley-Davidson (“one of a kind,” McCormack said) to rodeo events to raise money. Ellerman gladly collaborated, and got McCormack free tickets to the National Finals Rodeo in December — great exposure for Cowboys for Kids. At the end of the finals, Ellerman joined McCormack for dinner at the Silverado Steakhouse as blithely as the first time he brought Fainaru-Wada to lunch. McCormack admits now that he felt bad that night, thinking Ellerman would suffer mightily for what amounted to a crime of buffoonery — one that may spur federal Judge Jeffrey White to put him in jail for years at his June 14 sentencing. “I think he just thought it was a game that wasn’t even going to bite him in the butt,” McCormack said. “I don’t think he went into it with the intent of it unfolding as it did.” So they ate under the cowboy photos and the chandeliers, talking of new collaborations between the PRCA and Cowboys for Kids. McCormack enjoyed being near Ellerman — and he still speaks of the lawyer with remarkable affection. But by that night, his resentment had ossified. When he speaks about it now, McCormack’s bitterness isn’t immediately evident; he’s likely to start by talking about keeping a reporter out of jail, or of preserving the sanctity of the justice system. But he also talks about feeling used by Ellerman. “Troy wanted to have me there even after I’d been fired,” McCormack said, especially when a tough conflict with Jason Adams, the steer wrestler who worked for the PRCA, cropped up. “What does Troy do? He calls Larry to get him out of the problem,” McCormack said. Those sour feelings made it easier to sit in Ellerman’s office wearing a wire, listening to the strangely oblivious man condemn himself, even after he had clues that the feds were circling. “I was there for over an hour talking to Troy about this, and he said a lot of stuff, and I’m just thinking, �Troy, come on, why are you doing this, you know I’ve talked to a lawyer and someone told you I ratted you out,’” McCormack said. While McCormack spent the meal feeling sorry for his friend, he was also self-righteously indignant — an attitude he maintains when accused of treachery now. “All these so-called legal geniuses who are badmouthing me, they don’t know what it’s like,” McCormack said. “He betrayed me in the first place by bringing me into it.” McCormack paused. “So quid pro quo.”
Justin Scheck is a reporter for The Recorder , the ALM publication where this article first appeared.

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