- Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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Federal authorities in San Diego are investigating possible fraud charges against former professional cyclist Floyd Landis in relation to his legal defense fund, which closed its books almost five years ago.
Landis, 36, confirmed the existence of the investigation Thursday and said he had received a letter informing him he is a target. Landis declined to go into specifics.
"I can't get into the substance of the investigation, but I am sure you can understand that I would prefer to not be under investigation," he said in an email. "However, when I was living the lie of denying doping in cycling, it was an ordeal for me as well. Coming clean with the truth has been a stressful process, but I knew that would be the case when I decided to expose the truth about me and cycling.
"I am optimistic that when the prosecutors understand me and the whole situation, they are going to do the right thing."
Department of Justice spokeswoman Debra Hartman said she could neither confirm nor deny any ongoing investigation. Other non-law enforcement sources independently confirmed that the FBI, supported by San Diego-based assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Halpern in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California, have been investigating Landis, whose 2006 Tour de France title was stripped after arbitrators upheld his positive test result for synthetic testosterone. Witnesses have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury over the last 12 months.
Investigators are examining the finances of the Floyd Fairness Fund, established in late 2006 after Landis, then a resident of suburban San Diego, decided to dispute his positive test. In public appearances, media interviews and a book, "Positively False," Landis maintained that he had not doped to win the 2006 Tour or at any time during his career. He and his supporters also vigorously attacked what they portrayed as flaws in both the scientific and bureaucratic process around anti-doping jurisprudence.
The defense fund, set up as a trust for Landis' benefit rather than a non-profit corporation, raised a little more than $1 million. Between $300,000 and $400,000 came from small individual donations and merchandise sales and the balance from wealthy friends of the cyclist's and patrons of the sport in the United States. Landis did not have check-writing authority on the fund. In an October 2010 ESPN.com story, Michael Henson, who administered the fund, said all of the money went to legal expenses and an outside accounting firm reviewed its financial records.
In the same story, Landis said he intended to pay back small donors when he had the means, but remains unemployed and has not yet acted on that pledge. Interviews with a sampling of small and large donors at that time indicated that many did not want to be repaid.
Landis also emptied his own life savings to contest the case through two rounds of arbitration. He returned to the professional peloton in 2009 but was unable to persuade any top-level teams to hire him. In early 2010, he sent a series of emails to cycling officials admitting that he had doped extensively during his years as a support rider for Lance Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service team (2002-04) and in 2005-06, when he rode for Phonak. He also alleged there was organized doping within the Postal team and detailed instances where he saw Armstrong and other riders using various performance-enhancing substances and techniques.
Those accounts led to meetings with federal investigators based in Los Angeles who were already probing doping in U.S. cycling. Landis cooperated with investigators and wore a wire at one juncture early in the probe. The focus of the investigation quickly shifted to scrutinize Armstrong's years on the Postal team, when Postal Service sponsorships totaled $32 million, and numerous witnesses were called before a grand jury seated in the Central District of California.
Landis' emails were leaked to the media in May 2010 and in subsequent interviews with ESPN.com and other outlets, Landis provided details on his own doping history and his eyewitness accounts of others on the team. However, he continued to maintain that the test results that cost him his Tour title were incorrect and that he had not used synthetic testosterone during that race, although he did dope by other means.
The investigation into Armstrong and his associates on the Postal team was dropped in early February without explanation by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is continuing to explore the possibility of bringing a case against Armstrong, and government investigators are also gathering information to help decide whether to intervene in a civil "whistleblower" suit filed in 2010 with the intention of recouping Postal Service sponsorship funds. Sources have confirmed that Landis is the plaintiff in that case, although he has declined all comment on the subject.