Federal investigators trying to establish if US Postal team sponsors and investors were deceived
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Federal investigators trying to establish if US Postal team sponsors and investors were deceived

by Shane Stokes at 4:08 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
Anti-doping investigation continues to dig for signs of fraud

Floyd Landis Lance ArmstrongAs the investigation into the US Postal Service team continues, investigators are speaking to some of the investors who provided funding to the team, trying to establish if any were misled during the course of their backing. They are also seeking to determine if the owners were aware of any doping while, at the same time, the team was assuring sponsors that there was no drug use going on.

The news, which was reported today by the Wall Street Journal, would fit into previous suggestions that federal investigators such as Jeff Novitzky were looking into possible fraud charges.

The US Postal Service is an independent agency of the US government and if it is shown that the team did indeed use doping products, the owners would be open to serious federal sanction.

The team faced several separate accusations of doping during the winning Tour de France sequence and, according to US Postal’s then-senior vice president of sales Gail Sonnenberg, some board members consequently wished to end the backing.

However she said that she was assured several times by Thomas Weisel, Mark Gorski and Dan Osipow, all co-owners, that the team was clean. She said that they told her that Armstrong was living like a "monk" and that while some other teams were dirty, that everyone knew that the US Postal Service team was not breaking the rules. She told the newspaper that she believed the team was clean.

Apart from the US Postal Service, additional funding was obtained from wealthy businessmen who wanted to buy into the experience. They invested large sums of money into the holding company Tailwind Sports and, in return, were able to spend time with the team on training camps, ride team bikes, and have close access to the riders during the Tour de France.

The newspaper reports that amongst those who invested in 2002 were John Bucksbaum, a former chief executive of General Growth Properties; two-time Olympic rower Richard Cashin, Jr., chairman of a private-equity unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.; David "Tiger" Williams, founder of Williams Trading LLC, a Connecticut firm; and Ward W. Woods, Jr., former chief executive of Bessemer Securities LLC.

Three years later, team sponsors met at a hotel in Californa. One of those present said that team manager Johan Bruyneel was asked about doping and he replied by saying there was a zero tolerance policy in place. The Belgian assured them that anyone breaking this rule would be punished harshly.

The team competed between 1996 and 2004 and won the Tour de France six times in that period, taking an additional victory in 2005 while backed by the Discovery Channel. The current investigation was sparked off partly by claims by a former rider, Floyd Landis, that he and other riders on the team regularly used doping products.

He implicated a wide number of people in the practice, and claimed that Bruyneel and Armstrong both encouraged and facilitated the use of drugs. They and others have denied the claims.

Novitzky and other investigators have been working on the case for many months. They recently spent several days in France, meeting with anti-doping officials and police agents from that country, Italy and Belgium. They have reportedly gathered a lot of evidence, and it is believed that the case is moving towards a conclusion.

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