Lance Armstrong investigators seek formal co-operation of French authorities
Novitzky continues to build case centered on alleeged doping at US Postal Service team
Investigators in the United States conducting an inquiry into doping in professional cycling centered on Lance Armstrong and his former US Postal Service team and described as being “about corruption to the core” have made a formal request for co-operation from the appropriate authorities in France.
The request was made last month and follows a meeting held last year at Interpol’s HQ in France between Food & Drug Administration (FDA) Special Agent Jeff Novitzky, who is leading the investigation, and European law enforcement officials concerned with doping, according to an Associated Press report on ESPN.
The potential case against Armstrong and other staff and riders of the team is said to revolve around use of sponsorship money to fund a doping programme, potentially leading to charges of fraud and conspiracy.
That, said a source familiar with the investigation, meant it differed from high-profile cases also investigated by Novitzky involving baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens relating to their use of performance enhancing drugs.
Last month, Bonds was convicted of obstructing justice but a jury was unable to reach a decision on three other more serious counts. Clemens is due to stand trial later this year on charges of perjury.
"This case isn't like Bonds and Clemens," insisted the source. "Those were about lying. This is about corruption to the core."
Armstrong’s spokesman Mark Fabiani, however, accused Novitzky’s team of having leaked "self-serving information."
"Persistent, inaccurate leaks can't change the facts: This inquiry has been going on for a year now, and the only result has been an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars and diversion of prosecutorial resources," he added.
A Republican member of the House of Representatives, Jack Kingston from Georgia, has also queried whether pursuing such investigations against high-profile sportspeople is the best use of public money.
"What bothers me is that you've got a very powerful federal government that has the money and time and resources to ruin someone's reputation," he Kingston during the Bonds trial. He is also requested to have asked the FDA how much money has been spent on Novitzky’s investigation into cycling, but has yet to receive a reply.
For others, though, the resources devoted to the enquiry mean that investigators will be determined to see it through. "There is a substantial investment in the investigation which makes it less likely that they'll walk away from it," explained Laurie Levenson, an ex-federal prosecutor turned professor at Loyola University Law School. "I don't think they would spend this time or money as a witch hunt against Lance Armstrong."
Separate enquiries in Europe, moreover, are gathering evidence that could potentially be used by Novistzky’s team, including one in Italy that has focused on Armstrong’s former trainer, Dr Michele Ferrari. The cyclist claims that he stopped using Ferrari in a professional capacity in 2004, but recently confirmed that they had met socially prior to last year’s Tour de France. An Italian source told the Associated Press that there were records of other meetings during the intervening period.
Besides the FDA, investigators from the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI are also involved, with the Department of Justice having overall responsibility.
"A Lance Armstrong [case] will go all the way up the chain," continued Levenson. "[Attorney General Eric] Holder or one of his chief deputies will sign off on the indictment or be briefed on it. They will have input even before this case gets indicted," she added.
US officials are said to have already requested urine samples from Armstrong and other US Postal Service riders from France’s anti-doping agency, the AFLD.
However, Fabiani countered that news by highlighting Armstrong’s record of testing. "All of Lance's samples were 100 percent clean when they were first given and tested," he insisted. "In fact, over his 20-year career, Armstrong has taken nearly 500 drug tests, in and out of competition, and never failed a single one."
Novitzky for his part is determined that there should be no leaks from Europe that might weaken the investigation. "They want the procedure to be solid," an official familiar with the case stated, adding: "He is doing a very good job. "When he bites, he doesn't let go."