US prosecutors drop probe of Lance Armstrong team
Los Angeles: Federal prosecutors on Friday dropped an investigation centered on whether seven-time Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong and his teammates cheated the sponsor of their bike racing team with a secret doping program.
The decision means that Armstrong, a cancer survivor who has always vehemently denied using performance-enhacing drugs, will not face any charges following the two-year-long probe.
Prosecutors have said little publicly about the case and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., in a brief written statement, announced simply that his office was "closing an investigation into members and associates of a bicycle racing team owned in part by Lance Armstrong."
A source familiar with the investigation, however, said that prosecutors had been looking into whether the team had defrauded its sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service, by doping.
Doping, or using performance enhancing substances in professional sports, is not a federal crime.
"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," Armstrong, 40, said in a statement released through his spokesman.
"I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction," Armstrong said.
Birotte said that he was making a public announcement that the investigation had been closed because of "numerous reports about the investigation in media outlets around the world."
The seven-time Tour de France winner, a cancer survivor who has never failed a doping test, has vehemently and repeatedly denied the accusations.
Despite unparallelled success as a cyclist, Armstrong has never been able to shake allegations he was a drug cheat.
Rumors have spread for years that Armstrong, who retired last year, used performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his brilliant career.
USADA chief Travis Tygart said in a written statement on Friday that its investigation into cycling was still ongoing.
"Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA`s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws," Tygart said in the statement.
"Our investigation into doping in the sport of cycling is continuing and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation," he said.
Former teammate and deposed Tour de France winner Floyd Landis in 2010 accused Armstrong not only of using performance-enhancing drugs but teaching others how to avoid being caught.
Landis said he witnessed some of his teammates, including Armstrong, use illegal drugs, including once on a team bus during a race, to boost performance and endurance.
The wife of one-time Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu has also said that Armstrong admitted to using illegal drugs.
In a sworn deposition, Betsy Andreu said Armstrong, when asked by doctors at Indiana University Medical Center whether he had used performance-enhancing drugs, replied yes and listed EPO, growth hormone, cortisone, steroids and testosterone, Sports Illustrated reported.
Armstrong also has had ties to controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who has publicly defended the use of EPO but has denied helping athletes enhance performance through doping.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency previously said it has tested Armstrong 27 times since 2001, adding that the totals do not include tests done by international organizations.
Earlier accusations that the American had used EPO during the 1999 Tour de France led to a 2006 investigation supported by the International Cycling Union (UCI) that cleared Armstrong of doping.
The investigation followed allegations published by the French newspaper L`Equipe that six of his urine samples from the 1999 Tour showed traces of EPO.