Lance Armstrong Case Takes BALCO Investigator Jeff Novitzky To France

Categories: Sports
LArmstrong.jpg
Look what you've done!! I'm melting, melting.
Jeff Novitzky, the USDA investigator famed for pursuing Barry Bonds in the BALCO steroids case, was in Lyon, France this week chasing evidence that cycling star Lance Armstrong doped in violation of multimillion dollar sponsorship agreements with the US Postal Service. Novitzky's European trip could be crucial to his case against the American cycling star, thanks to damning evidence French newspapers have said is kept frozen in that country's main anti-doping laboratory.

Novitzky first gained fame as an IRS investigator sifting through garbage cans in search of evidence Bonds was using steroids. Now, he's with the Food and Drug Administration and has turned his investigative attention away from overweight baseballers who stand around in the grass and call it sport, to an international sport of legitimate athletic merit. Cycling currently has vastly more stringent doping controls than drugged-up sports such as baseball. But Novitzky may have a better chance pinning federal charges on Armstrong than he did Bonds, perhaps based on the legal theory that Armstrong's team may have illegally involved federal Postal Service sponsorship money in systematic doping fraud.

Novitzky's visit to France is significant because, in 2005, the newspaper L'Equipe detailed laboratory reports showing seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong used banned drugs to aid him in his first Tour victory in 1999. The newspaper revealed how the blood-oxygenating aid EPO had showed up in Armstrong's urine. Armstrong denounced the story. And he was not penalized, because the drugs showed up in stored urine samples as the result of a mere newspaper investigation, rather than a formal anti-doping procedure. Armstrong pooh-poohed the L'Equipe story on U.S. television shows such as Larry King. But he never offered a convincing explanation as to why signs of EPO use were found in six of his urine samples submitted during the 1999 competition.

The Associated Press reports that Novitzky was accompanied by federal prosecutor Doug Miller, as well as Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Antidoping Agency. The U.S. officials are reported to be  meeting at the offices of Interpol with officials from France's anti-doping agency AFLD.

According to the Wall Street Journal: 

U.S. investigators are most interested in learning more about Mr. Armstrong's 1999 urine samples, which have been preserved in refrigerators at a French national anti-doping laboratory, the people familiar with the matter said.
Armstrong has been alleged to have doped a number of times over his career, and has defended himself by saying he hasn't failed formal doping tests. Armstrong's team masseuse was quoted in the 2004 book L.A. Confidentiel: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong as saying the cyclist actually tested positive in 1999, at a race prior to the Tour de France, for steroids he thought he would have cleared his system before the tour. Masseuse Emma O'Reilly says doctors in Armstrong's employ backdated a prescription for a legal ointment containing steroids, and race organizers allowed it. Notwithstanding, Armstrong's cancer-comeback story has given him an impenetrable reputation with his fans, and he's spent this year pretending the Novitzky investigation did not exist.

Consistent with this PR strategy of "brazening it out," in a statement Tuesday an Armstrong spokesman told the Journal: "the samples were clean when originally provided and tested. So we have nothing to be concerned about. Period."

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Lance Armstrong's urine samples are purportedly kept in a bunker atop the tower...
Prior to the 2005 L'Equipe story, Armstrong was one of America's most lawyered-up athletes, suing over publication of L.A. Confidentiel. But he didn't sue over the L'Equipe allegations which, if false, would have arguably been defamatory.

Sports doping isn't ordinarily a criminal offense. Neither Novitzky nor Miller have
commented on the case they're reportedly assembling for a federal grand jury said to
be empaneled in Los Angeles. 

To make a federal case, Novitzky and Miller may need to allege an ancillary offense
such as fraud. Under one possible fraud scenario, team owners could theoretically have
permitted doping, despite sponsorship contracts specifying the Postal Service's right to
cancel payments in the event of team-sanctioned drug use. Armstrong was part owner of the
Postal Service team at  certain points in its history.

To prove such allegations, federal prosecutors would need evidence Armstrong doped
 -- such as might be found with the French anti-doping agency. They would likely need to
prove thatpeople with controlling, or at least influential, ownership interest in  the team
permitted doping. And they might need to show that doping was in clear violation of a
USPS sponsorship  agreement in place during the specific year the doping purportedly
occurred.

With all those balls successfully aloft, a case might be made that Armstrong had
defrauded the federal government out of millions of dollars Will the hammer drop?

Novitzky and Miller's trip to France suggests they believe it might.

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