WASHINGTON — The prosecutor’s words were delivered in the matter known as “The United States of America vs. Miguel O. Tejada,” spoken during Thursday’s 23-minute hearing in which the Houston Astros shortstop was sentenced to one year of probation for misleading Congress.
The message — famous or not, you must tell the truth — also could be interpreted as a warning to another baseball star, Roger Clemens. His case, involving sworn testimony to the House of Representatives, is currently before a grand jury in the very same federal courthouse where Tejada appeared.
“People have to know that when Congress asks questions, it’s serious business,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham told the court. “And if you don’t tell the truth — and we can prove you haven’t told the truth — then there will be accountability.”
Congress referred Tejada to the Justice Department in January 2008, a little more than a year before it asked that Clemens be investigated to determine whether he lied when saying he never used performance-enhancing drugs.
Tejada was the All-Star sitting in court this day, his chin resting on his right hand while Durham talked. Tejada was the past American League MVP receiving his punishment after pleading guilty last month and admitting he withheld information about an ex-teammate’s use of performance-enhancing drugs when questioned in 2005 by congressional investigators.
“I take full responsibility for not answering the question,” Tejada told U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay.
Standing at a lectern facing Kay, Tejada spoke softly for less than a minute, the talented hands he normally uses to grip a bat or field ground balls stuffed in the pant pockets of his pinstriped, three-piece suit.
He apologized to Congress, to the court, to baseball fans — “especially the kids” — and added: “I learned a very important lesson.”
Tejada is the first high-profile player convicted of a crime stemming from baseball’s steroids era.
“What people are not entitled to do, your honor, is to provide untruthful or dishonest answers. No one has that right,” Durham told the court. “Not the people who are well-known — and not the people who are unknown.”