Lance Armstrong 'gratified' doping investigation has ended
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced Friday that they had closed a criminal investigation relating to cyclist Lance Armstrong, nearly two years after a grand jury began probing allegations of doping by the seven-time Tour de France winner and other members of the U.S. Postal Service team.
The decision came after blistering criticism from attorneys representing Armstrong, which alleged in court papers that government sources had leaked confidential grand jury information “with the transparent agenda of publicly smearing Armstrong and aggrandizing the government’s investigation.”
A brief statement by U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. gave no reason for concluding the investigation without charges. Birotte said he “commended the joint investigative efforts of his prosecutors and special agents with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Postal Service – Office of the Inspector General.”
Armstrong released a statement welcoming the news:
"I am gratified to learn that the US Attorney's Office is closing its investigation. It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it. I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction."
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement that it would continue its own investigation into the use of banned substances in cycling.
“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” the group said. “Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
The U.S. attorney’s announcement marked an unceremonious end to an investigation headed by Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitzky, who had previously led steroid-use probes that ensnared baseball’s Barry Bonds, Olympic champion Marion Jones and world-champion boxer Shane Mosley, among others.
The grand jury, which began its inquiry around May 2010, heard testimony from a number of Armstrong associates and teammates including former teammate Yaroslav Popovych, exercise physiologist Allan Lim, Olympic medalist Tyler Hamilton and longtime liaison Stephanie McIlvain.
Hamilton, who himself served a two-year suspension for doping, went on CBS' "60 Minutes" last May to detail how he, Armstrong and other members of the U.S. Postal Service team used banned substances.
"I saw [erythropoietin] in his refrigerator. I saw him inject it more than one time like we all did, like I did many, many times," he said in the program.
Attorneys for Armstrong had asked a federal judge to find the government in contempt for leaks to the media, writing that it was apparent that “a source inside the government, including potentially Novitzky himself” was responsible.
“They guarantee that even if exonerated and never charged, Armstrong’s reputation will have been permanently damaged,” they wrote at the time.
-- Victoria Kim and Lance Pugmire
Photo: Lance Armstrong reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the 17th stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Bourd-d'Oisans and Le Grand Bornand in 2004. Credit: Laurent Rebours / Associated Press