The criminal investigation into the U.S. Postal Service-sponsored team of cycling champion Lance Armstrong took a vast leap forward today with reports that former teammate Tyler Hamilton has agreed to speak with federal investigators.
Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist whom doping authorities found to have cheated in a 2004 post-Olympic competition by injecting another person's oxygen-carrying red blood cells, stands to become the Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano
of cycling. As a Lance Armstrong lieutenant who later became leader of a top professional team, Hamilton may be the equivalent of a mob underboss so well-placed that his information could bring down an entire organization.
Meanwhile, the Daily Journal
reported Wednesday that Armstrong has hired a criminal defense attorney
Hamilton, who launched a futile legal battle to prove his innocence following that 2004 positive doping test, shares much in common with former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis, whose story of organized, USPS-sponsored doping will be the subject of a Friday ABC Nightline segment.
That disgraced cyclist's allegations earlier this year spurred a criminal investigation into whether managers of Armstrong's Tour de France-winning teams defrauded the U.S. government by secretly violating sponsorship contracts under which the U.S. Postal Service paid out tens of millions of dollars. The contracts included clauses prohibiting team managers from tolerating doping.
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organiziations Act (RICO)
, under which a prosecutor must prove a suspect oversaw an ongoing criminal enterprise. Novitzky has released no indication whether, or under what sort of theory, he might be pursuing a RICO-type case. However, the circumstances surrounding Hamilton's 2004 Olympic gold medal, and the subsequent finding that he doped, suggest tolerance of doping may have reached organized cycling's highest levels.
Some news reports have suggested that Food and Drug Administration criminal investigator Jeff Novitzky may be pursuing charges using the
When Hamilton was tested following his first place in the Olympic 48 km
time trial, his blood sample came up positive for carrying someone
else's red cells. But an official doping sanction requires that two,
separately-stored samples prove tainted. Olympic officials mishandled
the second sample, ruling out the possibility Hamilton would lose his
Earlier this year, Floyd Landis fingered Ochowicz as one of several men aware of a sophisticated doping program in place at the Phonak team -- a charge Ochowicz denied.
Landis was the second Phonak leader to suffer a doping positive, and then launch an expensive and futile legal campaign to prove his innocence; Hamilton was the first. That he's apparently readying to meet with federal investigators adds another dimension to the Armstrong doping investigation.