Rider linked to Landis confesses to importing growth hormone

Papp could face ten years' jail for Chinese smuggling plot

by Tom Henry   February 18, 2010  

Syringe

An American cyclist who was a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency witness against disgraced Tour de France Floyd Landis in 2007 has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute human growth hormone he imported from China.

Joe Papp, 34, of Pittsburg, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to sell HGH and Erythropoietin, or EPO, over the Internet.

He faces up to five years in prison on each of the charges when he's sentenced June 25.

Papp earned more than $80,000 selling the drugs from September 2006 to September 2007 to 187 customers "including cyclists and other athletes, throughout the United States and internationally," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton said. None of the customers was identified in court.

Papp's Chinese connection is identified only by the name "Chen" and authorities did not say if that person would be charged. The evidence against Papp is largely in e-mails between him and his customers, a website he operated through which the drugs were sold, and a private mail box where Papp allegedly received the drugs.

"The e-mails would also show that no prescriptions were written by medical doctors and that the drugs were sold for use to enhance athletic performance," Houghton told the court.

Papp has admitted using performance enhancing drugs since testosterone metabolites were found in his urine at a Turkish cycling tour in May 2006, and was later suspended from cycling for two years.

Since then, he's perhaps best known for his links to Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win because of doping allegations and was this week the subject of an international arrest warrant issued in France.

According to the Associated Press, Papp is also linked to American cyclist, Kayle Leogrande, who sued the USADA in an effort to stop the anti-doping agency from completing a drug test on him.

At Wednesday's hearing, Houghton mentioned Landis' 2007 doping trial in detailing Papp's background for Chief U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster.

At that trial, Papp acknowledged his long pattern of drug use and testified about the ways synthetic testosterone helped him recover after races. Papp didn't implicate Landis as a doper, but was questioned by USADA attorneys to counter claims by Landis' attorneys who argued that testosterone wouldn't help a cyclist win a race like the Tour de France.

In the Leogrande case in 2008, USADA attorneys introduced cell phone records showing more than 270 calls and texts between Papp and Leogrande, and pictures of Leogrande holding vials of EPO at Papp's home.

Leogrande also received a two-year doping ban for using the drug after suing to prevent the USADA from testing his backup urine sample after his original sample was deemed "clean" because of a technicality.