just a gut feeling from someone who's wanted to believe, but this stuff - his choice of words, where and what he tries to emphasize, and the "american tax dollars" thing...i dunno, it just isn't sounding good to me. has the feel, to me anyway, of taking the "only going after owners/directors, not riders" thing and running with it. i wanna be wrong.
from today's NY Times:
Armstrong Distances Himself From Doping Inquiry
By JULIET MACUR
CHAMBÉRY, France — Lance Armstrong, a focus of a federal investigation into possible fraud and doping on the now-defunct United States Postal Service cycling team, distanced himself from that investigation Wednesday, saying that he was just a rider for the team and had no knowledge of what went on within its management.
“The most glaring thing is the misconception that I was the owner of the team,” Armstrong said before Stage 10 of the Tour de France, in which he is in 31st place over all. “That’s completely untrue. No ownership, none at all.”
Armstrong, a seven-time winner of the Tour, said he did not know the people who issued his paychecks when the team was sponsored by the Postal Service through 2004, only that they were signed by the company that owned the team, Tailwind Sports. He said he had “absolutely” no knowledge of how Tailwind used its funds during that time.
“It wasn’t my company,” Armstrong said. “I can’t make it clear enough to you. I don’t know. I didn’t know the company. I didn’t have a position. I didn’t have an equity stake. I didn’t have a profit stake. I didn’t have a seat on the board. I was a rider on the team. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
When asked why he had not cleared up misconceptions about his role on the team years ago, Armstrong said, “I’m correcting that now.”
Armstrong did gain an interest in Tailwind sometime in 2004, after the Tour, according to testimony in a lawsuit that Armstrong and Tailwind brought against SCA Promotions, an insurance company that was seeking to withhold a bonus from Armstrong because of doping allegations.
In testimony related to that lawsuit, Armstrong’s agent, Bill Stapleton, said Armstrong was formally granted an 11.5 percent interest in the team sometime around the fall of 2004.
The Postal Service’s contract ran from 1996 through the end of 2004. The Discovery Channel became the team’s main sponsor in January 2005.
Federal authorities investigating possible fraud and doping charges against Armstrong and some of his associates recently issued grand jury subpoenas to witnesses, according to several people briefed on the case. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a federal investigation.
Armstrong said Wednesday that he had not spoken with federal investigators, and had not received a subpoena.
The authorities are particularly interested in the people who dealt with the finances of the Postal Service squad.
Jeff Novitzky, a Food and Drug Administration agent who led the investigation in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative steroids case, is in charge of the cycling case and is trying to determine if Armstrong, his teammates, the owners or managers of his former team conspired to defraud their sponsors by doping to improve their performance and win more money and prizes. Authorities want to know if money from the Postal Service, an independent agency of the United States government, was used to finance doping.
Thom Weisel, the founder of Tailwind Sports and the owner of a San Francisco-based financial services company, declined to meet with a reporter who traveled to his hotel in Talloires, France, on Wednesday to discuss his role in Tailwind. He was staying at the hotel for a gathering of top USA Cycling donors.
Although Weisel founded the team, Stapleton’s company, Capital Sports & Entertainment, managed it from the “winter, spring ’03, ’04,” according to Stapleton’s testimony in the SCA insurance case. That company also received an 11 ½ percent interest in Tailwind, Stapleton testified.
Armstrong said neither he nor Stapleton’s company gained equity in the team until 2007. His personal lawyer, Tim Herman, said in a statement Wednesday that Armstrong received his first shares of common stock of Tailwind in December 2007.
Armstrong could not say Wednesday who the principals of that Postal Service team were, except for Weisel, whom he called the team’s “spiritual leader,” and Eddy Borysewicz, a former national team coach who Armstrong said was the director of the Postal Service squad.
“I never had any dealings, any dealings, with the Postal Service, zero, and I never made any assertions either way,” Armstrong said. “That’s the truth and that’s what’s in the contracts and that’s what will come out.”
Capital Sports & Entertainment’s Web site says it had direct dealings with the Postal Service when it sponsored the team. “In its role as manager, C.S.E. handled all aspects of this legendary professional cycling team,” including an $18 million annual budget, the Web site said.
Armstrong’s current RadioShack team manager, the former Belgian rider Johan Bruyneel, helped Armstrong win his seven Tours — including the ones he won while on the Postal Service team. He is among the team officials and riders implicated in allegations by the former Tour winner Floyd Landis, who was stripped of that 2006 title for doping. Landis recently said that riders and officials on the Postal Service team had doped or encouraged doping while he was on the team in the early 2000s.
Bruyneel said last week that the Landis allegations were false.
Investigators have contacted other riders on the Postal Service team whom Landis accused of doping. Landis said Armstrong doped and that he encouraged his teammates to do so, too.
“As long as I live, I will deny it,” Armstrong said. “There was absolutely no way I forced people, encouraged people, told people, helped people, facilitated. Absolutely not. One hundred percent.”
Landis and at least two other riders on the Postal Service team — Frankie Andreu and a rider who did not want his name published because he still works in the sport — told The New York Times that they were doping while on that squad. But Armstrong said he was sure that none of his former teammates, other than Landis, would implicate him in any doping scheme. He said that if his teammates had doped, he had no knowledge of it.
“I can’t speak to what they did themselves; I can’t control that,” he said. “It would be like me asking you, ‘Listen, do you think there’s any abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in the N.F.L. in the offensive line?’ Most people would say probably yes. Does that mean Peyton Manning is guilty? I mean, I can’t control what other riders do.”
Armstrong said he would cooperate with any investigation and that he was “respectful of the process,” but he hinted that he was not happy about the case.
“Do the American people feel like this is a good use of their tax dollars?” he said. “That’s for them to decide. Like I said, as long as we have a legitimate and credible and fair investigation, we’d be happy to cooperate. But I’m not going to participate in any kind of witch hunt. I’ve done too many good things for too many people.”
Armstrong, a cancer survivor who founded a foundation that advocates cancer research and support, said it would be “a shame” if the case affected his foundation or his efforts in the fight against cancer.
“It would be a shame for a lot of people,” he said. “I can’t control it. Other than clarifying some things, I hope that everybody can pay attention and understand the facts here.”
The government rarely prosecutes individuals for using performance-enhancing drugs because it is only a misdemeanor crime, but prosecutors have gone after people who have used such drugs in connection with other crimes, like the baseball player Barry Bonds and the track star Marion Jones.
Daniel C. Richman, a professor at Columbia University and a former federal prosecutor, said fraud can be difficult to prove.
“Fraud involves obtaining money through some type of misrepresentation or holding back important information,” Richman said. “But proving it can be a complicated mess because you need to determine how and when things were said and what the mind-set of the person was.”
Richman said even if Armstrong was not directly involved in ownership of Tailwind during the Postal Service years, he might still be implicated in fraud.
“If he is holding himself out as someone that was clean and he was profiting from it, it wouldn’t have any impact on his exposure to fraud charges,” Richman said. “It doesn’t matter what official position he had or did not have with the company.”