After expansive USADA report, feds mum on why Armstrong case was dropped

Federal prosecutors refuse to comment when questioned by VeloNews over dropping the Armstrong investigation

“United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. today announced that his office is closing an investigation into allegations of federal criminal conduct by members and associates of a professional bicycle racing team owned in part by Lance Armstrong.”

— U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, Feb. 3, 2012

“I am gratified to learn that the U.S. Attorney’s office is closing its investigation. It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it. I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction.”

—Lance Armstrong, on the same day

On February 3, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice called off its probe into Lance Armstrong and an alleged doping ring at the U.S. Postal Service team. No reasons were given for the dropped case, only the statement from U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr., which landed two days before the Super Bowl and quickly washed away.

Since then, there has been no new information regarding the federal investigation into Armstrong and other pillars of the Postal Service dynasty, though the 200-page report — with some 1,000 pages of supporting documents — that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published on Wednesday has called into question the decision to walk away from a case that seems overwhelmingly convincing.

When contacted on Thursday, a U.S. Attorney’s Office representative out of the Central District of California branch said the office would not comment “at this time,” though it is unclear if the department plans to address its decision at all. VeloNews has filed a Freedom of Information Act request surrounding the two-year federal Armstrong investigation and its dismissal, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Jeff Novitzky, the Food and Drug Administration’s high-profile investigator, focused on performance enhancing drug use and trafficking, as well as fraud, by Armstrong and his former teammates in the late 1990s and early 2000s, building his case over the summer of 2010. A Los Angeles grand jury subpoenaed a number of Armstrong associates later, including past teammates George Hincapie, Frankie Andreu and Tyler Hamilton and physiologist Dr. Allen Lim.

Novitzky also led a group of agents on a fact-finding mission to Europe in late 2010, meeting with French anti-doping lab directors at Interpol headquarters in Lyon. The investigation seemed to be picking up steam.

And then, it vanished early in February. The Wall Street Journal a few days after the case was dropped reported that Birotte Jr. made the decision after reviewing the evidence against the cycling icon and rejected the advice of his assistants to pursue criminal charges against Armstrong.

For Andreu, the decision to end the federal investigation came as a head-scratcher. In an interview on Thursday, the former Armstrong lieutenant said he’d hoped the federal investigation would air cycling’s dirty laundry.

“I was hoping they’d put on a lot pressure and get that shit out there,” he said of the sport’s darker side, adding that he couldn’t believe the investigation was shelved.

Andreu, who admitted to using performance enhancing drugs long before pressed by authorities, didn’t believe the day when Armstrong was branded a cheat by regulators would ever come.

“Before the start of Novitzky, I thought ‘never.’ He’s too powerful, too influential,” he said of his former captain.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart, meanwhile, pressed on. After Birotte Jr. dropped the case, he said: “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.”

Tygart did so and it is yet to be seen whether his work in exposing a 14-year conspiracy to use, traffic and cover-up performance enhancing drugs will lead federal prosecutors to re-open their own Postal Service investigation.