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February 3, 2012 7:45 PM

Justice Department Puts Brakes on Lance Armstrong Investigation

Posted by Brian Baxter

In a big victory for the cycling star and his peloton of lawyers from Keker & Van Nest, Patton Boggs, and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles announced late Friday that it has closed a two-year criminal probe into the seven-time Tour de France winner and members of his former U.S. Postal Service team without bringing charges against the targets.

"This is great news," Armstrong's spokesman, former White House special counsel Mark Fabiani, said in an e-mailed statement to The Am Law Daily. "Lance is pleased that the United States attorney made the right decision, and he is more determined than ever to devote his time and energy to LiveStrong and to the causes that have defined his career."

Fabiani, the so-called "master of disaster" for his work helping embattled clients, is but one member of the high-powered legal team assembled by Armstrong to defend himself in the federal probe.

The Am Law Daily reported last year that Armstrong had hired Keker & Van Nest's John Keker and Elliot Peters, Patton Boggs litigation partner Robert Luskin, and Sheppard Mullin white-collar defense cochair Bryan Daly to assist the cycling star's longtime lawyers from Austin's Howry, Breen & Herman in an all-out effort to clear Armstrong's famous name.

The months of press leaks, attacks by former teammates, and other generally negative publicity helped persuade federal prosecutors to take the unusual step of publicly issuing a press release on Friday to clear Armstrong of any wrongdoing.

"[It was] 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," André Birotte, Jr., a former Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan associate who became U.S. attorney for the Central District of California in 2010, said in the three-paragraph release.

Birotte did not offer a reason for closing the probe, but did commend federal prosecutors and special agents with the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Postal Service's office of the inspector general for their work in investigating Armstrong and his team, which was disbanded in 2007 amid a swirl of allegations that has helped tarnish the reputation of professional cycling.

The support of the U.S. Postal Service provided Armstrong's team with almost $32 million in federal funds between 2001 and 2004, when the Discovery Channel took over sponsorship of the cycling team.

The federal backing gave investigators extra ammunition when probing allegations that team members had used performance-enhancing drug and engaged in blood-doping that threatened to permanently damage both Armstrong's storied cycling career and his charitable endeavors. Those efforts include the sale of the Lance Armstrong Foundation's enormously popular yellow wristbands to raise money for cancer research. (Armstrong himself is a survivor of testicular cancer.)

A federal grand jury was convened in Los Angeles to hear evidence compiled by prosecutors and testimony from a number of individuals close to Armstrong, including ex-teammate Tyler Hamilton, who gave an explosive interview to CBS news magazine 60 Minutes last year that enraged Luskin. (Hamilton’s lawyer spoke with The Am Law Daily at the time about his client's decision to come clean on illicit drug use; another former Armstrong team member, Floyd Landis, turned to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.)

With Friday's announcement, all that is apparently behind Armstrong now.

"I am gratified to learn that the U.S. attorney's office is closing its investigation," Armstrong said in a statement provided by 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."

Additional reporting by Nate Raymond.

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