Federal prosecutor says Lance Armstrong criminal probe won't be reopened
Man who announced 12 months ago that grand jury investigation being dropped insists case closed for now
The chief prosecutor who 12 months ago decided to shelve the federal grand jury investigation against Lance Armstrong has said that there are no plans to reopen the case, meaning the disgraced cyclist is unlikely to face criminal proceedings for what the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) described as the biggest doping conspiracy in sporting history.
Speaking at a press conference on an unrelated issue today, André Birotte, United States Attorney for the Central District of California, was asked whether in the light of Armstrong’s confession to doping, it would re-examine the issue.
"We made a decision on that case a little over a year ago,” he said. “Obviously, we've been well aware of the statements that have been made by Mr. Armstrong in other media reports. That does not change my view at this time."
Whether those final three words mean the case could be reopened in the future is unclear.
Rumours persist that the Armstrong camp harnessed political influence to make the investigation go away, with the announcement that it was being shelved coming out of the blue.
When Birotte announced in February last year that the case against Armstrong and others connected with the former US Postal team had been dropped, it seemed as though the man who won seven editions of the Tour de France would never be brought to account for the mounting allegations of doping against him.
However, USADA pressed on with its own case, which resulted in him being banned from sport for life and stripped of results including those seven Tour de France victories.
Unlike the federal probe, which concentrated chiefly on issues such as drug trafficking, fraud and misuse of federal finds, USADA’s investigation focused on the sporting aspect of doping.
The work of investigators in the federal case led by Food & Drug Administration special agent Jeff Novitzky was not all in vain, however.
For a start, it’s entirely possible that some of the witnesses whose testimony formed part of USADA’s case would never have confessed to the agency about their own doping, and what they knew of Armstrong’s drug use, had they not previously had to give evidence, under oath and on pain of perjury, to the federal grand jury.
To put it another way, once a secret has been shared once, it’s a lot easier to divulge it a second time, and it’s likely that the specific scenario of the federal investigation and potential consequences for lying meant that those called to testify before the grand jury had little option but to give full disclosure.
In effect, that would have softened any reluctant witnesses up by the time USADA came to speak to them.
Also, it would have been difficult to give USADA a different version of events, with the prospect that the separate evidence might be compared, the federal investigation reopened, or elements of the earlier testimony being leaked if they conflicted with later statements.
Secondly, Novitzky’s work on the Armstrong case appears to have helped usher in a new spirit of cross-border and cross-agency collaboration in anti-doping cases, with the Padua investigation for example looking at illegal payments related to doping being made between Italy, Monaco and Switzerland.
Armstrong continues to face separate legal actions from parties including The Sunday Times, seeking the return of a six-figure out-of-court libel settlement, and is also at the centre of a case brought under whisteblower legislation by former team mate Floyd Landis which the US government is said to be considering joining.
He is also being sued by insurers SCA Promotions for return of almost $12 million in bonus money paid to him for some of his Tour de France wins.
SCA had initially withheld the money as rumours of Armstrong’s doping became more widespread nearly a decade ago.
In 2006, Armstrong won a court case against SCA, which was consequently forced to pay the bonus, and is now asking for it back.
Armstrong’s lawyer Tim Herman has told USA Today this week that he did not believe his client should have to return the money.
"My only point is no athlete ever, to my understanding, has ever gone back and paid back his compensation," he stated.
While by his own admission Armstrong lied on oath during a deposition given in the SCA case, he cannot now be prosecuted for perjury in that regard due to a statute of limitations meaning it is too late to bring charges.