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Criminal Probe of Armstrong’s Bicycle-Racing Team Closes, Prosecutor Says

Lance Armstrong, the seven-time tour de France champion, and his professional bicycle racing team are no longer the subjects of a U.S. criminal probe, the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles said.

No charges were filed against Armstrong, according to court records there.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said yesterday in an e- mailed statement that the joint investigation by prosecutors from his office, special agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Service “into allegations of federal criminal conduct by members and associates of a professional bicycle racing team owned in part by Lance Armstrong” was ending.

“The United States Attorney determined that a public announcement concerning the closing of the investigation was warranted by numerous reports about the investigation in media outlets around the world,” according to the statement.

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles had been investigating Armstrong’s possible drug involvement, a person familiar with the matter previously said. The person didn’t want to be identified because details of the probe weren’t public.

Armstrong rode for the Postal Service team.

The probe of the doping allegations was led by Jeff Novitzky, a criminal investigator with the FDA. Novitzky previously investigated steroid use by professional athletes, including former San Francisco Giants baseball player Barry Bonds and Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, who was convicted for lying to grand juries about her steroid use. Bonds was convicted by a jury last year of obstructing the probe. He is appealing the conviction.

‘Right Decision’

Armstrong, 40, a cancer survivor, retired from professional cycling in February 2011 to focus on Livestrong, his cancer charity. He has denied using banned performance-enhancing drugs and has passed almost 500 tests over 20 years of competition, his attorney has said. He won the Tour de France, the sport’s most-prestigious event, each year from 1999 to 2005 after surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs.

“I am gratified to learn that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is closing its investigation,” Armstrong said in an e-mailed statement from his attorney Mark Fabiani. “It is the right decision and I commend them for reaching it. I look forward to continuing my life as a father, a competitor, and an advocate in the fight against cancer without this distraction.”

Armstrong ‘Secrets’

Doping accusations against Armstrong began shortly after his first Tour victory, including in a French book, “L.A. Confidential -- The Secrets of Lance Armstrong.” In 2010, Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title after a positive drug test, accused Armstrong and other former teammates of using illegal substances.

Another former teammate, Tyler Hamilton, who handed back his 2004 Olympic cycling gold medal after his own doping admission, told CBS’s “60 Minutes” last year that Armstrong used endurance-boosting erythropoietin, or EPO, during the Tour in 1999 and to prepare for the Tour in 2000 and 2001. He also said he saw Armstrong transfuse blood during the 2000 race. “60 Minutes” reported that Hamilton said the same thing to investigators under oath.

Armstrong said at the time that Hamilton “duped” the program and was seeking to make money from a book he was writing.

‘Clean Sport’

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Executive Officer Travis T. Tygart said his organization, the official anti-doping agency for Olympic sports in the U.S., will continue its investigation.

“Unlike the U.S. Attorney, USADA’s job is to protect clean sport rather than enforce specific criminal laws,” Tygart said in an e-mailed 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.”

Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer in October 1996. He underwent chemotherapy and returned to professional cycling two years later. In 1999 he won the first of his record seven consecutive Tour de France titles.

His team, owned and managed by Tailwind Sports, was sponsored by the Postal Service, which provided about $8 million a year in financial support and covered about 60 percent of its expenses.

The Postal Service ended its sponsorship in 2004 and Discovery Communications Inc. was a sponsor until 2007. The team announced that year that it was shutting down as cycling reeled from a spate of doping scandals. Armstrong’s seventh Tour win with the team was in 2005.

Armstrong has endorsements including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI)’s Michelob brand, Nike Inc. (NKE), Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY), Trek Bicycle Corp. and RadioShack Corp. (RSH), which sponsors the racing team he formed in 2009, according to his website.

His Austin, Texas-based Livestrong charity has raised more than $325 million, according to its website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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