BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — A spokesperson for BMC Racing told VeloNews Monday that it “would not be appropriate” for team manager Jim Ochowicz to address claims, made in a federal lawsuit, that he was aware of doping within the U.S. Postal Service team, yet took no action to inform the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or cycling’s world governing body, the UCI.
Filing under the Federal False Claims Act, Floyd Landis launched a Qui Tam civil lawsuit in 2010, suing Lance Armstrong and former U.S. Postal Service team associates, including wealthy San Francisco financier Thomas Weisel, for defrauding the government by violating the sponsorship agreement between the team and the U.S. Postal Service. Defendants in the suit include Tailwind Sports and Montgomery Sports, owned by Weisel, as well as Austin-based Capital Sports and Entertainment (CSE), which lists Armstrong, team manager Johan Bruyneel, attorney Bill Stapleton, and longtime Armstrong associate Bart Knaggs among its principals.
On Friday the Department of Justice joined the lawsuit after negotiations of a settlement with Armstrong’s legal team fell through over the amount of damages the USPS incurred to due Armstrong’s admitted doping.
The U.S. government, however, is not intervening, for now, with respect to Stapleton, Knaggs, CSE, or Weisel.
Instead, the DOJ is focusing on Armstrong, Bruyneel, Tailwind Sports LLC, and Tailwind Sports Corporation as the defendants financially responsible for damages to the USPS. Landis, however, may still proceed in the suit against the other defendants, so long as the DOJ does not strike a deal to dismiss the suit.
Ochowicz is not named as a defendant in the case.
If victorious, Landis could be awarded up to 15-25 percent of three times what the U.S. Postal Service spent on its sponsorship from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2004, which is valued in the lawsuit as $31,442,262, meaning Landis could potentially emerge with between $14 to $23 million.
In the lawsuit, attorneys for Floyd Landis point out that Ochowicz, who has been the president and general manager of the BMC Racing team since 2007, served as the president of USA Cycling’s (USAC) board of directors from 2002 to 2008 and as a broker at Thom Weisel’s investment bank between 2001 and 2011.
While president of the USAC board of directors, Ochowicz also served as a paid consultant at the Phonak Pro Cycling Team, owned by Swiss magnate Andy Rihs, who now owns the BMC bicycle brand and its several racing teams.
That business relationship, while serving as USAC board president, was one of several apparent conflicts of interest that brought Ochowicz at odds with former USA Cycling CEO Gerard Bisceglia, who was dramatically fired by the board and replaced by Steve Johnson in April 2006.
Following Biscegila’s departure, the USA Cycling board of directors retroactively absolved Ochowicz of any wrongdoing, relating back to a conflict of interest case surrounding an unrelated BMC Software sponsorship of the Zürich World Cup in 2002.
The federal whistleblower suit claims that in late 2006 or early 2007, during Ochowicz’s tenure as president of the USAC board of directors, Landis had a conversation with Ochowicz about how he should respond to his adverse analytical finding for an elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio during the 2006 Tour de France while riding for the Phonak team.
At the meeting, the lawsuit claims, Landis “openly referenced the doping program of the U.S. Postal Service team and the fact that he needed help to fight the pending charges against him. Mr. Ochowicz did not express any surprise regarding Mr. Landis’ references to doping on the USPS Team, implicitly indicating he already was aware of the fact, nor did he give any indication in the conversation that he planned to refer the matter to [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], WADA, or UCI for further inquiry.”
To Landis’ knowledge, the suit states, Ochowicz took no such action to inform any of the sport’s governing bodies or anti-doping agencies regarding his conversation with Landis, simply indicating to Landis that he would have Lance Armstrong call him.
Asked for a comment on the claim, team press officer Sean Weide wrote in an email to VeloNews, “It would not be appropriate for [Ochowicz] to comment in the press on anything related to the federal whistleblower lawsuit, so he is not available to answer any questions about it.”
The suit also states that Thomas Weisel Partners managed funds for UCI president Hein Verbruggen between 2001 and 2004, and that Ochowicz was the employee at Thomas Weisel Partners who handled the account. Verbruggen led the UCI during Armstrong’s seven-year dominance of the Tour de France from 1999-2005.
Ochowicz confirmed to The Wall Street Journal in January that Weisel’s firm managed the Verbruggen brokerage account, saying “There was no hanky-panky,” adding that Weisel didn’t have “direct access” to Verbruggen’s account. Ochowicz declined to say how much money was in Verbruggen’s account, saying “I have no recollection of talking about Hein’s accounts with Thom Weisel.”
It was during that period that Landis claims Armstrong tested positive for EPO at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland, an anti-doping violation Landis claims was covered up with help from Verbruggen.
Verbruggen insisted everything had been above board, telling The Associated Press, “I have given Jim a small amount of money to manage for me, and he moved to Thom Weisel. I didn’t even know who Thom Weisel was. There is no relationship whatsoever. You give a guy that you like a small amount of money to manage and 12 years later, I end up in a doping case.”
The UCI has been widely criticized for accepting donations from Armstrong of up to $125,000. Both Verbruggen and current president Pat McQuaid strongly deny suggestions of payoffs while admitting that they accepted the money, insisting it was in order to buy anti-doping testing equipment.
Former Armstrong teammates Landis and Tyler Hamilton have both alleged that the UCI helped Armstrong cover up a positive EPO test from the 2001 Tour of Switzerland.