Armstrong/US Postal Service investigation continuing onwards
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Armstrong/US Postal Service investigation continuing onwards

by Shane Stokes at 6:47 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
‘Solid case’ reportedly being built by investigators

Lance ArmstrongRecent days have seen a surge in news relating to a doping investigation in Italy, and its reported connection to the infamous doctor Michele Ferrari. La Gazzetta dello Sport has said that his network may have generated 15 million euro, and that investigators are studying the activities of nearly 100 people.

La Gazzetta suggests that the inquiry has developed from the original investigation into the US Postal Service team, which began with the federal agent Jeff Novitzky exploring Floyd Landis’ accusations against the team, Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel and others.

That inquiry has now expanded beyond US borders and has led to deeper scrutiny of Michele Ferrari’s activities in Europe. According to La Gazzetta, investigators are now looking at his financial dealings, providing a clear paper trail to those who may have been involved in illegal activities. They are said to have detected evidence of cash transfers from the US, and have reportedly frozen some bank accounts.

Ferrari worked with Armstrong’s from the mid 90s onwards and during his Tour reign, the US Postal Service team reportedly had an exclusive arrangement with the doctor. He is said to have been paid a large sum to work with that team alone during several seasons; this may in time prove to be relevant in terms of the talk of cash transfers from the US.

European investigation aside, VeloNation understands that activity on the other side of the Atlantic continues to progress. Contrary to suggestions made in an AP article released in February, there are little clear indications of ‘serious hurdles,’ as was stated then.

VeloNation has spoken to sources with knowledge of the matter and understands that investigators are continuing to build what they feel is a solid case. This website understands that Floyd Landis’ claims have been bolstered over time by the testimony of multiple witnesses, with these corroborating suggestions that systemic doping took place on the team.

While Landis’s own credibility as a witness will likely be challenged if the case goes to trial, due to the fact that he lied under oath during his own doping hearings, the testimony of others would prove to be of importance in determining the veracity of his assertions.

His claims first became public last May, when details were leaked of emails originally sent to the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), USA Cycling and the UCI. He catalogued what he said were systematic doping practices by those on the team and elsewhere, with the Phonak outfit also coming under fire. He competed there in 2005 and 2006.

The claims were immediately dismissed by the UCI, but the USADA and WADA took the allegations more seriously, and the case developed into to a federal investigation led by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) special agent Jeff Novitzky and others.

Last June the World Anti-Doping Agency's director general David Howman said that he believed the Landis allegations have weight and would eventually yield results.

“I think we are very optimistic that this inquiry will be a fruitful one,” he told the New York Times. “But this is going to take some time because we’re not really talking about a simple antidoping case here. Remember the BALCO case, how long that took? Well, we could be still talking about this one in 2016.”

The case has since moved on from that point, with more agencies becoming involved. These include the Federal Bureau of Investigation , the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General, plus both the civil and criminal divisions of the Department of Justice.

In addition to that, the investigation has extended beyond US shores, with Novitzky, US federal prosecutor Doug Miller, US Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart and FBI special agent Olivier Faraole spending time in France last November. They met with anti-doping officials and police agents from France, Italy and Belgium, exchanging information with them. Given what has happened of late, it appears that Michele Ferrari’s activities may well have been a large part of the discussions.

At the time, an unnamed AFLD official said that the French anti-doping agency would share "everything we know, everything we have, in the fridges, in the freezers, everything, everywhere.” He added that they are prepared to answer "everything that they ask.”

In February it was confirmed by AFLD president Bruno Genevois that the agency was starting the process of handing over Lance Armstrong’s 1999 Tour de France samples, which l’Equipe reported in 2005 had shown traces of EPO. At the time, Armstrong denied those charges and the UCI took no action.

Moving forward:

VeloNation has heard that Armstrong’s legal team met with officials from the US Attorney’s office and others, and that unsuccessful attempts may have been made to stop the investigation from proceeding. His spokesman, Mark Fabiani, previously worked for Bill Clinton and has extensive political connections.

That speculation was increased when Congressman Jack Kingston spoke during a House subcommittee hearing last month, in relation to on budgeting for the Food and Drug Administration. He questioned the amount of money which had been spent on the investigation, a point that Fabiani has repeatedly sought to push home.

“What I’m very concerned about, and I hope that I’m proven wrong, but (I think it is) that because it’s a celebrity, and one great way to make a name for yourself in this town and in politics is to bring down a celebrity,” he said, according to AFP.

“I really believe this is one man’s tear, maybe a personal issue and I’m not sure where the balance is.”

What Kingston missed out on is the fact that the investigation has broadened significantly and involves many other agencies now. The enquiry is also understood to have moved beyond being one which is dealing with alleged doping alone, and is looking at more serious charges.

Despite the measures to put pressure on the investigation, the case has continued. A grand jury was in place by last July; VeloNation understands that these typically sit for 18 months, and that the duration can be extended if necessary. In the case that indictments are made, these often happen after approximately a year, making it possible that if the case is strong enough, there could be developments in this area during this season’s Tour de France, or shortly afterwards.

The Michele Ferrari investigation has the potential to boost the speed at which things are moving. If a financial trail can be established, this could have big implications for the case and for the chances of a successful prosecution.

FDA investigation aside, USADA would also be in a position to take action based on any evidence it has access to. This typically excludes grand jury evidence, although permission can be sought to use this too.

Armstrong has of course denied Landis’ claims, as has the former general manger of the US Postal Service team, Johan Bruyneel. In February the-now retired pro cyclist said that he didn’t dwell on what is happening. “I can't control what goes on in regards to the investigation. That's why I hire people to help me with that,” he stated to AP. “I try not to let it bother me and just keep rolling right along. I know what I know. I know what I do and I know what I did. That's not going to change.”

The final outcome of all this is of course unknown. However the developments in relation to Michele Ferrari raise questions, as do Italian investigators’ recent claims that he and Armstrong met several times in recent years, including before last year’s Tour de France. Armstrong has dismissed these as being personal visits only.

The Texan also continues to insist that the seven Tour wins were achieved on water alone. In an era when a high proportion of his rivals have question marks over their own achievements, the months ahead will determine if that was indeed the case.

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