Federal Prosecutors Drop Doping Case Against Cyclist Lance Armstrong

Originally published on February 3, 2012 6:54 pm

Federal prosecutors say they have dropped its doping case against seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. For two years, prosecutors looked into allegations that Armstrong and his United States Postal squad used performance-enhancing drugs.

The AP reports:

"In a press release, United States Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. says the case has been closed but didn't disclose the reason for the decision.

"Investigators looked at whether a doping program was created to keep Armstrong and his teammates running at the head of the pack while, at least part of the time, they received government sponsorship from the U.S. Postal Service."

As we've reported, Armstrong has been dogged by allegations of doping for years. He has always denied the allegations, saying that he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Several associates testified before a grand jury in Los Angeles after his ex-teammate Floyd Landis leveled doping allegations against Armstrong.

The AP reports that this investigation was led by federal agent Jeff Novitzky who also investigated baseball stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Back in December, Bonds was sentenced to 30 days in house arrest for an obstruction of justice conviction that stemmed from his doping case.

The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said an announcement about the case's closure was needed, because the investigation had already been made public in press reports.

We'll have more on this story as it develops.

Update at 5:39 p.m. ET. 'Great News':

The AP has obtained a statement from Armstrong's lawyer:

"'This is great news,' Armstrong attorney Mark Fabiani said in a statement. 'Lance is pleased that the United States Attorney made the right decision, and he is more determined than ever to devote his time and energy to Livestrong and to the causes that have defined his career.'"

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Lance Armstrong received some welcomed news today. Federal prosecutors are dropping their investigation of the champion cyclist, which had gone on for nearly two years. Investigators had been looking into doping allegations against the seven-time Tour de France winner and his cycling teammates. Armstrong has denied those allegations.

And joining us now is NPR sports correspondent, Tom Goldman. Hi there, Tom.


CORNISH: So, what can you tell us about this decision by federal prosecutors?

GOLDMAN: It's surprising because many were expecting indictments, especially after, as you said, nearly two years. It's surprising that the decision to close the case was announced publically. It's rare that they would say that they were not proceeding. But, you know, there's been so much press about this, the U.S. attorney's office in L.A., where the grand jury had been hearing testimony, felt that some type of comment was needed.

CORNISH: Why is the Department of Justice dropping the case? Did they say?

GOLDMAN: Good question. No reason is given in the statement and U.S. attorney Andre Birotte was not commenting. I spoke to someone with knowledge of the decision who asked not to be identified, and that person said the decision was based primarily on not enough evidence. As it's been widely reported, federal prosecutors were approaching this case from a fraud angle. Were Armstrong and his teammates, when they rode for a team sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, were they involved in a scheme to defraud the USPS, and thus the federal government, by taking part in a doping program? The USPS had a no-doping clause in its contract with the cyclists.

Now, according to the person I spoke to, federal prosecutors asked the basic question – are we going to be able to convince a jury that Lance was a doper and that he and his colleagues set out to rip off the federal government? Their answer was no, they didn't have the evidence. And also, Audie, there were secondary factors that reportedly went into the decision as well, such as – the alleged doping took place in France, it took place a long time ago, is the Department of Justice going to be an enforcer in professional sports?

Now, while I was told that the evidence was not there, I also heard from another source who said investigators in this case stressed as recently as a week ago that the evidence was rock-solid.

CORNISH: At this point, does this mean that the case is actually closed on Lance Armstrong.

GOLDMAN: Well, not in the big picture. This case specifically dealt with the fraud issues which I mentioned. Today's statement said the U.S. attorney's office is closing an investigation into allegations of federal criminal conduct. But there are potential civil lawsuits against Armstrong. And the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency continues to investigate.

Here's a statement from the head of USADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart. And he says, unlike the U.S. attorney, USADA's job is to protect clean sport, rather than enforce specific criminal laws. Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.

CORNISH: Tom, just a few seconds left here. Any response from Lance Armstrong's camp?

GOLDMAN: Not surprisingly, his attorney, Mark Fabiani said it's great news. Quote, in a statement, quote, "Lance is pleased that the United States attorney made the right decision, and he is more determined than ever to devote his time and energy to Livestrong and to the causes that have defined his career." Of course, Lance Armstrong's supporters also applaud the decision. His detractors – the Armstrong camp calls them haters – are upset...


GOLDMAN: And they continue to believe that Armstrong cheated, which he has always denied.

CORNISH: Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet, Audie.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tom Goldman, reporting that federal prosecutors have closed their doping investigation of cyclist Lance Armstrong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.