WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the latest blow to Major League Baseball, five-time All-Star Miguel Tejada pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to lying to Congress about his knowledge of other players using steroids.
Tejada, 34, admitted that during a 2005 congressional hearing he made the misrepresentations to congressional staff members when he said he never knew of any other player using steroids.
The plea by the Houston Astros shortstop is the latest public relations problem for Major League Baseball, which was hit earlier this week when New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, the game’s highest-paid player, admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001 to 2003.
Tejada, the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2002 while with the Oakland Athletics, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor offense before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
At a news conference at the Astros’ Minute Maid Park in Houston, a tearful Tejada apologized to his family, the U.S. Congress, his teammates, baseball fans and the United States.
“I made a mistake,” the Dominican Republic native said. “This country gave me the opportunity to be who I am.”
The charge against Tejada was filed on Tuesday, a day after Rodriguez admitted to ESPN television he took a banned substance from 2001 to 2003, saying he felt pressure to perform after signing a record 10-year, $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
Rodriguez reportedly tested positive for testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan in 2003.
Home-run king Barry Bonds faces charges in San Francisco that he lied to a federal grand jury about taking steroids, while pitching great Roger Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young award winner, is under investigation in Washington on whether he lied to Congress when he denied using steroids.
Tejada said he knew he faced a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Under federal guidelines, he could get probation when sentenced on March 26, less than a week before the Astros open their season.
The judge told Tejada, who is seeking to become a U.S. citizen, that his guilty plea may affect his immigration status in the United States but he gave no further details.
Flanked by his two defense lawyers, Tejada tersely answered a number of questions, saying through an interpreter he understood his rights and voluntarily entered the plea agreement with prosecutors.
Tejada was released without bail. He must take a drug test and report in weekly by telephone until his sentencing.
Tejada, who also played for the Baltimore Orioles during his 11 full major league seasons, admitted he told staffers from the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2005 that he never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Tejada was not accused of lying about allegations concerning his own steroids use.
He pleaded guilty to lying about conversations he had during spring training in 2003 with an unidentified Oakland teammate who told Tejada he used steroids and human growth hormone.
Tejada admitted he gave the teammate two checks, totaling $6,300, for substances believed to be human growth hormone. The player did not know whether Tejada actually used the substances.
Tejada’s statement to committee staffers appeared to be contradicted by a report late last year by George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, in which Mitchell named more than 80 current and former players as suspected users of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore in Houston)
Editing by Deborah Charles and Peter Cooney