Jacobs: No surprise witnesses, USADA silent on Bruyneel hearing

Athlete attorney says USADA's U.S. Postal case is unlike any he's seen prosecuted previously

Wednesday was another hushed day in the arbitration hearing of former U.S. Postal Service manager Johan Bruyneel and two others, as no real news emerged from proceedings and only chirps came from the margins of the story.

And while reporters and followers of the sport no doubt feel snubbed, perhaps they shouldn’t: Arbitration cases like this are seldom, if ever, conducted in public.

“The way the [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] protocol is written, it’s only open to the public if the athlete — or in this case, the coach — requests that it be open to the public. And I believe that’s only been done once, ever,” said Howard Jacobs, an attorney for athletes who represented Floyd Landis at the notable open arbitration in 2007, which resulted in a guilty verdict for Landis over his positive test for testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France.

When contacted Wednesday, USADA, again, would not issue a comment on the proceedings or respond to questions relating to Bruyneel. Bruyneel’s arbitration hearing — along with that of former team doctors Pedro Celaya and Jose “Pepe” Marti — was reported to begin Monday in London and run through Thursday. USADA has asked for lifetime bans for Bruyneel and the others, heavily implicating the Belgian in what it called a “doping conspiracy” that spanned years, teams, and now evaporated Tour de France titles.

The Bruyneel case is an outlier in that it was widely reported at all, though its heft was hard to hide, as most of the weight USADA had stacked upon Bruyneel became visible in a reasoned decision it released regarding Lance Armstrong in Oct. 2012.

“Usually, ordinarily, nobody will even know about it. Because there’s not supposed to be any public announcement or publicity about the case until after the arbitration decision is released,” Jacobs told VeloNews. “In 90-plus percent of the cases, there would absolutely be no reason for the athlete to ask for a public hearing because nobody even knows about it. It seems to be only the big, high profile cases that invariably get leaked to the press, and in this case it’s not even leaked, USADA just, I guess, it became public.”

The arbitration is similar to a regular trial, but with three arbitrators instead of one judge, complete with opening statements, witnesses, cross examinations, and closing arguments. Witnesses for the hearing in London were reportedly piped in via video feed from the United States. Those probable witnesses include the riders who contributed testimony to the Armstrong investigation: Chrisitan Vande Velde, Tom Danielson, David Zabriskie, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheiemer, Jonathan Vaughters, Tyler Hamilton, and Landis.

VeloNews has reached out to riders and others who may have been called but to no avail — phone messages have gone un-returned and Vande Velde refused to discuss the case.

Jacobs said he hasn’t experienced a situation like this in a USADA case.

“I can’t think of another case, ever, where they’ve done anything remotely like they did in this case. I think the Armstrong decision is the only reasoned decision they’ve ever written where there was no arbitration … even a case that goes to arbitration, all you get is the decision at the end. You wouldn’t get all the evidence,” he said.

USADA alleges a massive, 14-year doping violation that it labeled a “USPS conspiracy.” Team officials, such as Bruyneel, allegedly obtained performance-enhancing drugs and then distributed them to top riders. There were code names for drugs and the expectation that riders use EPO and other drugs in order to help the leaders perform better in stage race general classifications, according to USADA.

“Beginning in 1999 and continuing through the present it has been an object of the conspiracy to conceal and cover-up the doping conduct of the USPS Conspiracy,” USADA wrote in a letter from the summer of 2012. “Numerous witnesses will testify that as part of this cover-up Johan Bruyneel, Pedro Celaya, Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong and other co-conspirators engaged in activities to conceal their conduct and mislead anti-doping authorities including false statements to the media, false statements, and false testimony given under oath and in legal proceedings, and attempts to intimidate, discredit, silence and retaliate against witnesses.”

The hearings were expected to end on Thursday, but it could be as long as 30 days before a finding is issued.