U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. announced in a press release that his office "is closing an investigation into allegations of federal criminal conduct by members and associates of a professional bicycle racing team owned in part by Lance Armstrong."
He didn't disclose the reason for the decision, though Birotte has used discretion in pursing high-profile criminal cases before. Last February, his office closed an investigation of mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp.
The pronouncement comes after a pair of less-than-successful cases against top sports figures accused of doping. Home run king Barry Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice and sentenced in December to 30 days' home detention — a conviction he's appealing — but prosecutors were unable to convince a jury he lied about using steroids. Roger Clemens' steroid trial is slated for April 17 after a judge declared a mistrial last summer when prosecutors showed jurors inadmissible evidence.
Investigators looked at whether a doping program was established forArmstrong's team while, at least part of the time, it received government sponsorship from the U.S. Postal Service. Authorities also examined whether Armstrong encouraged or facilitated doping on the team. He won the Tour de France every year from 1999-2005.
The hurdle for prosecutors wasn't so much to prove whether any particular cyclist used drugs, but to determine if Armstrong and other team members violated federal conspiracy, fraud or racketeering charges. Unlike Bonds and Clemens, who testified before a federal grand jury and Congress, respectively, and were accused of lying under oath, Armstrongwas not questioned in front of the grand jury.