One of the questions that keeps coming up amid all the latest Lance Armstrong news is why the U.S. government (or any one) should care about doping in the sport of cycling.Much of the evidence laid out against him in both Sunday’s 60 Minutes report and an earlier Sports Illustrated story for January, came to light as the result of a federal grand jury investigation into the U.S. Postal Service cycling team, of which Armstrong was a member when he won his first six Tour de France titles.
The grand jury, which is still ongoing, was convened last August by Jeff Novitzky, an FDA agent who has also gone after Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. His investigation of Bonds led to the baseball player being convicted on obstruction of justice charges this spring.
So why the Armstrong grand jury? Because from 1999 to 2004, his team (owned by Tailwind, Inc.) received $40 million in sponsorship money from the U.S. Postal Service, which is a government agency.
If the team used that money to run an illegal doping operation, they would liable for charges of “conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, drug trafficking and defrauding the U.S. government.”
In addition, former teammate Floyd Landis filed a whistleblower complaint (which allows citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government) against Armstrong, accusing him of carrying out that fraud. If the government finds the complaint to be valid, they can join the lawsuit against Armstrong, and ask for treble damages.
Proceedings of the grand jury are supposed to be secret, but CBS reported that George Hincapie and Tyler Hamilton both testified that they and Armstrong used doping drugs in their training. (They were given partial immunity to cooperate.)
Armstrong has not testified before the grand jury, but may be called to … or may be indicted without his testimony, opening the door to a very, very messy trial. Stay tuned….