Scope of US doping inquiry may be widened

Lance Armstrong responds to media questions about Floyd Landis

Lance Armstrong responds to media questions about Floyd Landis (Image credit: Steve Medcroft)

US federal authorities are reported to be considering expanding their investigation into doping allegations laid against Lance Armstrong and other leading riders to include possible fraud and conspiracy charges. According to the New York Times, investigators looking into allegations of doping made by Floyd Landis during the recent Amgen Tour of California are attempting to establish whether Armstrong and the managers of his former teams conspired to defraud sponsors by doping to boost their performance.

After speaking to two unnamed sources close to the investigation, the New York Times indicated that federal authorities are particularly interested in establishing whether sponsorship money provided by the US Postal Service between 1996 and 2004 was used to buy performance-enhancing products. The paper points out that sentences for those convicted on fraud changes can be longer than those given for drug distribution.

The paper also said that investigators are also planning to examine the contract between Armstrong and SCA Promotions, which refused to pay out a $5 million bonus to the seven-time Tour winner following the 2004 publication of David Walsh and Pierre Ballester’s book L.A. Confidentiel, which alleged that Armstrong had doped. Armstrong successfully sued SCA, who were forced to pay out $7.5 million to cover the payment and damages.

Speaking to the New York Times, Columbia University law professor and former federal prosecutor Daniel C. Richman said of potential fraud charges: “Federal fraud charges are fairly straightforward; they apply to any scheme to acquire money or property through deceit or misrepresentation. In this case, the authorities would have to prove that Armstrong was misrepresenting himself to sponsors by saying that he was clean but was actually using performance-enhancing drugs and profiting from it.”

There are some precedents for cases of sporting fraud in cycling. The best known involved 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich. In 2007, Ullrich was charged with fraud by German authorities in the wake of allegations of systematic doping that emerged during the Operation Puerto blood doping investigation. In April 2008, Ullrich paid “a six-figure sum” to end a fraud case based on his alleged deception of the public, his sponsors and his team.

The New York Times also says that federal agent Jeff Novitzky, who led the 2004 Balco investigation that led to athletics training consultant Victor Conte being imprisoned for distribution of steroids, has met with Landis and is working closely with the US Ant-Doping Agency.

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).