It seems that Lance Armstrong was under the scope of federal investigators long before Floyd Landis came out in emails about cycling’s doping practices, in which the disgraced Tour de France champion implicated Armstrong, the 7 time Tour de France champion. According to Sunday’s New York Daily News, the federal investigator who keeps dopers up nights–Jeff Novitsky–served a search warrant to Los Angeles fashion designer Michael Ball’s residence earlier this year, and that search warrant may have unearthed evidence implicating Armstrong.
Ball owned a racing team called Rock Racing which embraced cyclists tarnished by doping scandals, a team that had a renegade reputation in the sport since its formation in 2007. Rock Racing is now defunct, but ironically, may cause its greatest stir from beyond the grave.
According to multiple sources close to the probe, lead investigator Jeff Novitzky has contacted several members of Rock Racing, a now-defunct pro team that was owned by designer jeans maker Michael Ball. Formed in 2007 in Los Angeles, the team cultivated an outlaw image and provided a home for a number of riders tarnished by doping scandals.
Earlier this year, investigators served a search warrant on Ball’s luxury apartment in a high rise in the Marina del Rey neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles. In April, his Rock and Republic clothing company went bankrupt. Sources say Ball was under Novitzky’s scrutiny before Armstrong’s name emerged.
Since the raid on Ball’s home, the Daily News has learned, investigators have reached out to Rahsaan Bahati, a former Rock Racing rider who last winter formed his own team and hired cycling outcast Floyd Landis. At the time, Landis was trying to return from a doping suspension that cost him his 2006 Tour de France title.
With the scrutiny mounting around Lance Armstrong, the cyclist recently retained LA based criminal defense attorney Bryan Daly, despite News’ writer Nathaniel Vinton’s description of Landis’ assertions about Armstrong’s doping, in which he called the Landis’ claims “extraordinary.”
Frankly, Vinton seems poorly informed. Armstrong has a known positive result for the banned blood booster and steroid masking agent erythropoietin (EPO), and a compromised result in 2009 when Armstrong refused to submit for a urine sample at the behest and direction of the administrator–which technically speaking, is considered a failed test because of non compliance.
In light of that information, how could doping claims against Armstrong be “extraordinary”? Vinton does go on to provide us with more important information on the Armstrong probe, as he talked about the trail that led investigators to Roger Clemens.
Novitzky, who was with the Internal Revenue Service in 2003 when he uncovered the BALCO doping ring and in 2006 when he disrupted the steroid distribution network Kirk Radomski set up in clubhouses across Major League Baseball, has demonstrated an uncanny ability to build a blockbuster criminal case by seizing on the relatively minor transgressions of small-fry athletes. Take, for example, the shipment of human growth hormone to journeyman pitcher Jason Grimsley that ultimately led to the undoing of seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.
Could an investigation into Ball or one of the riders on his team have given Novitzky the opening he needed to target Armstrong, one of the most beloved and shrewd athletes in the sporting world? One thing is certain: the Los Angeles grand jury gives him a wide open road.
“The Supreme Court has held that, subject to certain fairly narrow exceptions, the grand jury may go where the evidence takes it,” explains Rosengart. “Consistent with their extremely broad prosecutorial discretion, federal prosecutors have tremendous power as well.”
Wouldn’t it be something if Rock Racing plays a part in this scandal, as well as the countless other things you know are out there about Lance, that are going to start becoming public, the way that Landis made his news public earlier this summer.
Investigators start pushing people a little, threatening federal time, and a lot of people are going to cave right away. This isn’t going to be some kangaroo court in France or wherever. Also, Lance seems behind in the game a little. Theyhave potentially been looking at him since early Spring, and he just hired a lawyer last week.
I’m sorry. It’s not humanly possible to win that thing 7 times as a clean athlete. And Lance is no choir boy.