Looks Like Lance, Inc. Too Big to Fail

Shortly after 5 PM on the Friday prior to Super Bowl XLVI, U.S. Attorney Andre Brigotte, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Central District of California quietly issued a three-sentence press release.

The federal investigation against Lance Armstrong had been terminated without an indictment being filed against him.

Federal government agencies, its courts, and the United States Congress are wont to release information about controversial legislation or court decisions, which could prove unpopular, before they high-tail it out of town on a Friday evening or during holiday times throughout the year. And Super Bowl weekend certainly qualifies as one of those times, when the media especially has a one-track collective mind, fixated upon Super Bowl Sunday.

For nearly a two-year period, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) invested untold millions of dollars, at taxpayer expense, for various investigations pertinent to Lance Armstrong. High-profile federal agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) of the Inspector General were utilized.

The lead federal agent on the case was Jeff Novitzsky of the BALCO case fame, as well as the lead investigator in the indictment against Roger Clemens. Novitzsky is now looking to catch on with another high-profile case with which to consume his time.

The way in which the DOJ bailed, however, is nearly as suspicious as the story behind one Lance Armstrong; once so celebrated for his seven Tour de France winning titles, yet in some cam reviled for possibly cheating along the road to those seven crowns.

But the sudden halt of this notorious case might prove unpopular to not only the cycling world, but to its regulatory bodies, including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and not the least of which to the public-at-large.

Not significantly enough reported is that the Lance Armstrong case is both similar and dissimilar, at the same time, to the federal cases against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds was found guilty in 2011 of one count of obstruction of justice during his Grand Jury testimony during the discovery process of BALCO in 2003. And Roger Clemens will have a new federal trial in April 2012 after a July 2011 federal mistrial.

All three cases involve world renowned elite athletes who possess over-inflated egos and enjoy enormous wealth, allowing them to lawyer-up with some of the most accomplished and powerful defense attorneys money can buy.

And of their supposed misdeeds, all three athletes' cases are relative to alleged consumption or administration of performance-enhancing substances or of illegally consuming pharmaceuticals.

At the very least, using banned substances is in violation of their respective sport's regulatory body or league's rules, let alone in violation of state or federal laws.

Barry Bonds was tried for lying before a federal Grand Jury and for giving false testimony as to whether he knowingly use illicit and/or illegal performance-enhancing substances or drugs, such as human growth hormone (HGH) and/or anabolic steroids.

Roger Clemens was indicted for allegedly lying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during a hearing in January 2008 on illegal steroid use in Major League Baseball.

It was the second of two hearings by the same Congressional committee on steroids in MLB; the initial one held in March 2005.

It remains curious, however, how Rafael Palmeiro allegedly lied in his finger-wagging testimony before the very same Congressional committee in 2005 that he never took steroids and never faced any legal consequences or an investigation like Bonds or Clemens did. It was later learned in May 2005 that Palmeiro had most likely given false testimony when his MLB drug test a few weeks later revealed he tested positive for anabolic steroids.

Clemens was not required to testify, yet volunteered. And four years later, after having been indicted for perjury after giving false testimony to Congress as to whether he used performance enhancing substances or drugs, his retrial proceeds.

Where the Armstrong case differs is in its scope. It involves the sponsorship of his pro cycling team named Tailwind Sports from 2001-2004 in his quest to win his eventual total of seven Tour de France trophies.

Armstrong's case did not involve perjury, but rather allegations of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, among other issues. Were he tried, it would have been under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, and famously known for prosecuting members of organized crime.

Yet it was the specific sponsorship by the USPS which was investigated, prompted the sworn testimony from Armstrong's former teammates, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, among others. They both admitted to using EPO and to doping themselves and pointed the finger at Armstrong for supplying the illicit and illegal substances to them.

It has been difficult for news organizations to shed light on the investigation and its various components, as unfortunately firewalls were put up by the DOJ, the USPS, as well as other principals involved. That led many to speculate about the veracity of Armstrong's innocence.

The USPS in fact spent $31.9 million on Armstrong's cycling team for its expenses over those four years, providing for 68% of the team's operating budget.

And over the past 8-12 years, the USPS was successful in withholding any detail on the financing of the team.

But recently, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was filed by ESPN and surprisingly granted by the USPS, albeit with redacted information, which led to confirmation of the $31.9 million.

However, how much was spent by the DOJ on the pre-trial discovery process remains to be seen.

And during it sponsorship of Armstrong's team, the USPS even hired its own public relations firm to avoid any appearance of impropriety, or being associated with rumored doping on the USPS cycling team, which later proved true. It even installed a morals perpitude and drug clause into its agreement the agreement with Armstrong's Tailwind Sports. Obviously, it remained unenforced, as the team was paid in full.

The USPS also insists that it was entitled to non-disclosure of its expenses for Armstrong, as it considers itself an "independent" federal agency.

Truth be told, the USPS is a semi-independent federal agency run by a Board of Governors of nine, appointed by the President of the U.S. Its operating expenses are largely dependent upon sale of its "postal products," which became prevalent in the 1980s.

But as provided by law, the USPS is a not-for-profit agency; although we constantly hear that it is not drawing enough of a profit to provide services. Well, it is only entitled to break even and not reap a profit, according to law.

The USPS still continues to enjoy certain federal subsides and certain legal protections, and comes under the purview of the U.S. Congress as well as the Executive Branch, commensurate with federal laws, regulations and pension law.

Therefore, for Armstrong to be involved with either of illegal or illicit activities through sponsorship of a federal entity presents concern worthy of a federal investigation. And to drop such without a conclusion or explanation is nearly as deplorable.

Furthermore, Lance Armstrong's cancer research foundation, Livestrong, which he founded as a cancer survivor, also remained in jeopardy, had he been indicted. In a climate starving for feel-good stories and a foundation reliant upon potential donors, Livestrong could have been irretrievably impacted.

Yet, in the past year or so, discrepancies have arisen concerning appropriation of funding for Livestrong. It prides itself that 80% of all donations are invested in scientific cancer research. But some, such as journalist, Bill Gifford, an Outside Magazine contributor, have done the research that indicates that Livestrong's books indicate otherwise.

And the question is: for the rich, powerful, and politically connected who are an asset to corporations, the philanthropic community, legislators, or agency appointees, will they remain unscathed? The answer is of course "yes," not unlike the "too big to fail" crowd on Wall Street, most of whom remain free.

Therefore, this is not so much a case about playing and upholding the fairness of competitive sports, as it is about playing a different kind of game; one of deception with a free pass posing as the trophy.

But it seems that everyone here wins except, of course, for sports fans, taxpayers, and those who still play by the rules. Yet there are those who still choose to believe that goodness and moral character will prevail and make up for the cheating, corrupt governance, and corporate malfeasance.

One can only hope.

Comments and Conversation

February 19, 2012

Bob Gagnon:

What part of “there is no evidence to precede with” do you not understand? Are you simply being vindictive? What about your motivations in this openly negative piece??? Are you simply jealous of Lance’s successes????

February 20, 2012

Suze:

You clearly didn’t hear the PBR show where investigation insiders expressed their shock that the case had been summarily dropped when indictments were just around the corner and their case was rock solid? At least now Travis Tygart of USADA can proceed with the long running doping investigation and the Italians are free to pursue Dr Ferrari and charges of money laundering and fraud that deeply indicate Armstrong. What parts of “plenty of evidence” and “political interference in the Federal investigation” don’t you understand?

February 20, 2012

Yarden:

Some “journalists” are so unhappy with the outcome that they need to write their stories and leave out such details as: 1) Armstrong never failed a drug test, and he was tested all the time—even the off-season. 2) Those who have accused him have admitted to not only doping for years, but lying about it. Why are they suddenly credible witnesses? If those at the top were forced to see that they did not have enough evidence, why can’t everyone else?

February 20, 2012

Skippy:

Must be a slow news week for you to come in behind the likes of Bill Gifford and regurgitate info that has been in the public domain for neary a decade ?
” Innocent until proven Guilty ” is still the US law or are you some exception that allows for scuttlebutt and the ravings of several convicted liars to be more important to you than a man who is working for the common good ?
Having met shamilton & flandis i know that the average American would have difficulty believing their manipulative utterances ! Was it not flandis that took money from ” Sports Fans ” to protest his innocence and then went to the authorities with a raft of fiction in the hope of gaining 10% of what he hoped would be the outcome ?
The world has moved on and this ” old news “, worthless as it is , will disappear even if the USADA throws large amounts of money into the pit in the hope of making some favourable publicity for themselves ! That WADA gave up a $1M to chase a failure is beyond belief ! Better they had invested that money in developing more tests to find the answers to combating the new range of products the ” Pharmacists ” are developing !

As for LiveSTRONG , shame on you for attempting to damage their image ! There are 28 Million Cancer Sufferers out there and some of them need support ! LiveSTRONG is about helping victims with Info , NOT about researching for a Cancer Cure ! Since 2005 very little has been spent on aiding Research bodies since it requires considerable expertise to decide which research programs deserve the funding available .

February 20, 2012

Alex:

Seems Lance has found the perfect crime. Not only has he defrauded many millions of cycling fans he has created an army of zombie defenders by appearing to create a beyond reproach charity that with a little further investigation also appears to be a fraudulent entity.
See http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/athletes/lance-armstrong/Its-Not-About-the-Lab-Rats.html?page=all

Critical analysis has long ago departed this once great country.

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