Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Celebrity crimes, Drug charges, Fraud | Posted on 02-07-2011
First, it was Barry Bonds. Next, it is Rogers Clemens, and, after that, maybe Lance Armstrong. The cost to the federal government so far, including the investigation of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), is over $50 million. Whether it’s worth that brings different responses. Proponents insist it is worth it for the “integrity of sports” or perhaps for the “integrity of the justice system,” since the government ended up taking Barry Bonds to trial on perjury that had been committed during the investigation. Similarly, Roger Clemens will be prosecuted for perjury committed in his voluntary giving testimony to Congress. Opponents insist the $50 million (and counting) could be well used at catching real criminals or otherwise spent by the federal government.
The investigator who has made it all happen is Jeff Novitsky. He is now employed by the Federal Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, but he was an IRS agent when he began the investigation of BALCO and famously searched the dumpster outside its company headquarters in Burlingame, California. Novitsky has been digging for nine years now. Until the Barry Bonds trial, Novitsky had succeeded in convicting ten of the eleven charged from the BALCO investigation, including a confession from Olympic sprinter Marion Jones. Bonds was convicted on one count of perjury, the jury having hung up on three other counts. There is strong speculation that the trial judge in Bonds’ case will not sentence him to hard time, however.
Novitsky served a subpoena on the laboratory that tested the confidential drug results from Major League Baseball, showing he is willing to squeeze the privacy of anyone whom he perceives as bad guys or anyone at all who can fit into his quest for evidence. Criminal defense lawyers are well-acquainted with law enforcement heroes who will are willing to “whatever it takes.” And that is a dangerous attitude to take for those with all the power possessed by federal law enforcement, dangerous to citizens, that it. Maybe Novitsky is not that dangerous, but you might have a tough time convincing the baseball players as they watch leaks in the press about who failed those “confidential” tests. Major League Baseball and the player’s union are still fighting to keep these results confidential, notwithstanding those leaks to the press.
Some question the use of the Federal Drug Administration to prosecute the use of steroids by professional sports participants as not even a “danger to the public health.” Only one U.S. Representative has raised significant questions in hearings before the Congress about Novitsky’s unending investigations, but now Novitsky may get help pursuing Armstrong from other agencies, like the I.R.S., the F.B.I., the D.E.A. INTERPOL may even get involved.
One angle of investigation the government may take against Lance Armstrong is whether he or his teammates misappropriated money from their team sponsored by the United States Postal Service in 2002 -2004 to purchase performance-enhancing drugs. That could lead to charges of fraud and illegal importation. Former Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis has allegedly said the team sold 60 new bicycles to finance the purchase of steroids, and Landis is allegedly in contact with Novitsky.
One area of concern to a criminal defense lawyer is that both Barry Bonds was, and Roger Clemens is, charged with perjury that they could have avoided. Barry Bonds could have insisted on immunity before testifying to the grand jury before which he was convicted of perjuring himself. Similarly, Roger Clemens did not have to testify before Congress without immunity. Surely his criminal defense attorneys told him that. But Clemens did testify, without a grant of immunity, and he will face trial next month for perjury in that testimony to Congress, in denying he took steroids.
Although the statute of limitations on Armstrong’s activities has or will soon run, all the government needs to do to restart the statute is to issue another subpoena and get a new piece of evidence for a new count. At least Armstrong has been smart enough not to volunteer to testify.
But now there is a new wrinkle the government is investigating: witness intimidation. Just this month, the F.B.I. requested surveillance video from a restaurant in Aspen, Colorado. The bureau wants to know more about a confrontation between Armstrong and his former teammate, Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton testified last year to a federal grand jury in Los Angeles, and he appeared on a television program telling about a systematic scheme for using dope by the U.S. Postal Service team.
Armstrong has a house in Aspen and is a regular at the Cache Cache restaurant there. According to Hamilton’s lawyer, Armstrong held out his arm to block Hamilton and began berating him. It was Hamilton’s lawyer, Chris Manderson, who called the F.B.I. about the incident, quoting Armstrong as saying, “We’re going to destroy you on the witness stand and we’re going to make your life a living hell.”
However, according to the Jodi Larner, co-owner of the restaurant, Armstrong spoke to Hamilton but never left his barstool. Tony DiLucia, a patron standing next to the two of them, said he could not hear what was said but could tell from the body language that things were not combative. He said he nothing aggressive.
Larner later on that evening told Hamilton he was not welcome to come back to the restaurant because his group did not tip their server. The next day she received threatening voicemails because she had stood up for Armstrong the night before.