Following the publication of my February 4 column, ‘Absolution of Alberto a perilous precedent,’ almost immediately, I received an email.
“I just wanted to correct you on a couple of things,” began the e-mail. The author was the wife of a former teammate of Lance Armstrong.
She claimed there were no leaks from the Los Angeles grand jury proceedings initiated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) lead investigator, Jeff Novitzky. She claimed, “Any witness who speaks and/or testifies is free to speak.”
We both have our take on Novitzky, who, admittedly, I have never met. I don’t believe him to be unscrupulous, but reading about his pursuit of BALCO and the extent to which he took the investigation into alleged fraud and malpractice at the United States Postal Service cycling team, one could say Novitzky was a man on a mission. “He is a man of integrity who follows the rules,” she assured me.
I used the word ‘was’ because as of Friday February 3 the case was unceremoniously, and rather inexplicably, closed.
A spokesman for Andre Birotte Jr., the US Attorney in Los Angeles, told ESPN.com last Friday “we cannot and will not discuss the internal deliberations” but with more than a hint of bromide said that, “the decision was made with a full and fair consideration of all the relevant evidence and law.”
“Like Yasser Arafat, Lance yet again dodged another bullet,” she said. “It’s disheartening that all of us who were compelled by law to tell the truth and risked so much in doing so weren’t vindicated in a court of law.”
While the case has been shelved by the US Attorney’s Office, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has vowed to continue where the FDA left off. “Unlike the US Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, said in a written statement following the announcement that ‘Lance dodged another bullet.’
Tygart reaffirmed the USADA position: “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 lady who wrote to me is, unsurprisingly, Betsy Andreu.
In 2006, she and her husband Frankie provided sworn testimony that Armstrong told physicians in their presence in 1996 that he has used EPO (erythropoietin), growth hormone, steroids and testosterone.
Their testimony related to a case involving Armstrong and SCA Promotions, the latter withholding a bonus as a result of Armstrong winning his sixth Tour de France in 2004 and allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to do so, as detailed in the 2003 book, ‘L.A. Confidentiel.’ An out-of-court settlement was reached to the value of $7.5 million, covering the $5 million bonus plus interest and lawyers’ fees. The arbitrator decreed the contract had no stipulations about doping per se, rendering most of the testimony moot including the Andreus, and thus ruling in favor of Armstrong and Tailwind Sports, owners of the US Postal Service cycling team.
We are unlikely to hear any more from Armstrong about this affair until USADA are done with it. In a written statement, he labeled the FDA investigation a “distraction”, saying its closure was “the right decision.” Given that, I asked Ms Andreu for her thoughts on what has transpired so far, and what she expects to happen.
“I’ll only agree to answer questions if the answers appear in its entirety without being creatively edited,” she responded.
So, without further ado…
VeloNews.com: You say that leaks were not the result of the shelving of the FDA investigation into Lance Armstrong during his tenure at the US Postal Service cycling team. What do you put it down to, then, and how can you be certain this is indeed the case?
Betsy Andreu: To even presume there were leaks by the government shows you’ve bought into Lance’s defense attorneys’ tactics. If indeed there were any so-called leaks by anyone in the government, then we must know who leaked what and they should be held accountable. It seems like they used a tactic from the BALCO handbook. The defense attorney in that case leaked the information to the press then screamed and yelled for the judge to dismiss it; a subsequent investigation revealed the defense had been the source of leaks. Let me remind you that a witness is free to speak about his/her involvement in the case; that does NOT constitute a leak!
As far as why this was closed… Speaking from personal experience, I know Lance’s modus operandi is to cozy up to people who are well connected in politics and the media. He spends a lot of money on politically-connected lawyers such as Fabiani whose partner, Chris Lehane, worked with Lanny Breuer during the Clinton-Gore presidency. Breuer is now the Assistant Attorney General for the criminal division of the Department of Justice. Lance’s attorneys were afforded meetings with the DOJ that average Joes would never get (as has been reported).
Look at the Penn State scandal – the attorney in charge of that DOJ had grand jury testimony which contained evidence of despicable, illegal and immoral acts. The attorney there dropped the case as well. Was there corruption in protecting the football team and coaches?
VN: You were subpoenaed to testify before the Federal grand jury. In summary, what did you tell them?
BA: Again, here is misinformation. Your question is based on presumption which is wrong since we (Frankie and I) didn’t go before the grand jury. Whether testifying before the grand jury or talking to a fed, lying is a crime (think Martha Stewart who was jailed for lying to a federal agent). I can tell you I told the truth about the firsthand knowledge I had about Lance’s PED usage.
VN: You met the lead FDA investigator, Jeff Novitzky. What were your impressions of the man, and what did he tell you about the veracity and amount of evidence he had gathered over the past 20 months, remembering that in order to convict, he had to prove fraud (and not that Lance or anyone on the team simply doped)?
BA: I’m astounded at the presumptions being made here – third question in which the presumption is false. When Jeff Novitzky first contacted me, he made clear right off the bat that his interaction with me was a one way street – i.e., he took information and didn’t give it. I believe he is a man of integrity with a strong belief in the American justice system. Lance’s greatest ally is the honor of his foes because they play by the rules.
With all due respect to Mr. Novitzky and the other agents and AUSAs (assistant US attorneys) involved in this case, they may not care about the lies and misinformation spewed about them and the case but they have their job at the end of the day. Those of us who told the truth about Lance’s doping risked a lot and I speak for a few who say we’re afraid of potential backlash. Already there’s an instance where, privately, we’re cheered on by people who commended our courage standing up to Lance and telling the truth. Soon after charges were dropped, however, the same person(s) were touting their association with Lance. Again, when an agent contacts you or you’re subpoenaed to go before the grand jury it’s not like you choose whether or not to comply.
VN: The fact that the FDA investigation was closed without a ruling – what are your sentiments?
BA: I’m astounded, stunned and disappointed because I thought this was would’ve put the truth out there in its entirety, thereby putting to rest any doubt about my knowledge of Lance’s doping as I testified to in the SCA case and of which I spoke truthfully to the Feds. It would’ve showed that I never lied. Ever. I also think it’s a huge blow for clean sport.
As NPR first reported on February 7, 2012, “The decision to close the case really came out of the blue.” Within the agencies there was “surprise, even shock and anger” at Mr. Birotte’s decision. The agents were informed of this decision only minutes before it was announced. The prosecution recommended criminal charges, hence indictments were expected. It took close to two years for this one man to decide to drop charges when the investigation was presumably nearing its end?
When Marion Jones was being investigated by the Feds and before she was indicted, she had lobbied high ranking congressman John Conyers of Detroit who stood by her side, calling for an investigation into the Justice Department and criticizing USADA for bringing a case against her when she had never failed a PED test. You have to wonder if Senators and Congressmen were lobbied by Lance et al. as well. The government owes it to the American people to fight corruption at all levels, whether it be people in the private sector or political appointees.
VN: USADA has formally announced their intentions to continue their investigations into doping. What level of confidence do you have that they can bring about a public hearing and, if found guilty, charge Armstrong with illegal use of PEDs?
BA: How incredible is it that Contador and Ullrich get nabbed but the man who beat them was lily-white! USADA was formed for a reason and it’s a shame it has to exist. However, as long as the benefits to doping outweigh the consequences of getting caught, people will try to buck the system – especially if you’ve benefited financially and have the money to hire attorneys whose job, should the athlete test positive, is to place doubt with the sanctioning body in order to get him/her off.
An important point to make is that doping is not a crime in America, like it is in France and Germany. You can dope yourself to the gills and not be criminally charged. The Wall Street Journal reported on February 8, 2012 that the reason for the government’s involvement was to answer the question whether or not the use of PEDs constituted criminal fraud. Were laws broken to get these PEDs? Were sponsors defrauded?
Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote a report on February 9, 2012 where (WADA Director General) David Howman said: “From the information I have, the data and evidence that has been gathered will reveal a lot of information that indicates doping offenses.”
Reading the AP on February 9 this year, Lance didn’t say he didn’t dope; he just reiterated he “never tested positive” which isn’t even correct. In 1999 he most certainly tested positive; he had to get a back-dated scrip which the UCI accepted. Had the UCI not accepted it, Lance would’ve been sanctioned for having the banned corticoid triamcinolone in his urine. In 2005, six of his stored samples were tested retroactively and EPO was found (as alleged by a report in the August 23, 2005 edition of L’Equipe – Ed.).
Since this case has been closed, Mr. Birotte’s office has an obligation to turn over all the evidence that can be legally obtained by USADA for their case. Mr. Birotte’s office said they will turn over all the evidence obtained – with the exception of grand jury evidence – to USADA. USADA can subpoena people, and those who have cooperated with the government are going to have to cooperate with USADA. I’m sure it’ll be very, very interesting.
If I can add, I know to the majority of VeloNews readers I’m despised. I have said people’s opinions of me only matter because Frankie still works in cycling. I’ve been a very vocal critic not only of Lance but of drugs in sport, and behind the scenes, am doing what I can to help have clean sport in America. People are loyal to their beliefs and for those who hate me and don’t believe me, nothing will change that. Should it ever be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Lance used PEDs and that there was criminal activity, some people will still refuse to believe it. And there’s nothing you can do about that.
Thanks for asking me to comment and giving me the forum to do so.
Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan