In a highly unusual move Federal prosecutors announced on Friday, February 3, 2012 that they had closed a two-year criminal investigation related to doping allegations involving seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Federal prosecutors rarely, if ever, announce the closure of a secret investigation–which is what the Armstrong investigation was. US Attorney Andre Dirott, Jr., explained that “numerous reports about the investigation in media outlets around the world” required his office to announce the closure of the investigation. Really? What is really going on here?

The Federal Government and US Attorneys’ Office routinely do secret investigations or secret Grand Jury proceedings regarding activities of famous people. Numerous famous athletes faced such investigations including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and others. The Feds have been harshly criticized for such investigations for numerous reasons including the fact that these investigations are extraordinarily expensive and are barely related to the fundamental purposes of the US Attorney which is to protect US citizens and investigate and prosecute Federal crimes. Roger Clemens is no threat to people on the streets in Texas.

But the Armstrong case was different. I, along with numerous other writers, harshly criticized the investigators involved in the Armstrong case. The US government had no business investigating whether Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs while riding in the Tour de France. Whether he did or not was not likely to be any type of Federal crime and was certainly in no way related to the safety of the public. The Feds investigated Armstrong for one reason: he is very famous and reputations and careers of the people involved in that investigation stand to be greatly enhanced by such an investigation–regardless of the result. Why announce that the investigation was closed and no charges were filed against Armstrong? Armstrong’s lawyers criticized the US Attorney for purposely leaking confidential Grand Jury testimony to publicly smear Armstrong and grandstand the government’s investigation. Armstrong’s lawyers filed court papers seeking a contempt citation against the US Attorney.

I am not here seeking sympathy for Armstrong. He can take care of himself. He is very wealthy and has a team of excellent and motivated lawyers working on his behalf. However, for every Lance Armstrong that the Federal government conducts a secret investigation on there are dozens of lesser “celebrities” such as public safety employees, local government officials, and even local businessmen. Particularly galling was the indictment of two correctional officers and correctional sergeant related to how those officers dealt with an inmate riot at Chino State Prison. Numerous inmates at Chico State Prison started a riot as a diversion for other inmates who severely beat and almost killed another correctional officer. As a result of the riot, officers and sergeants were required to take disciplinary action against the inmates and were forced to move them from one part of the prison to another. In the course of moving the inmates, an inmate named Villa sustained a minor bump or cut on his forehead. Medical staff immediately tended to the inmate and a formal investigation was conducted. California Department of Corrections found that the officers and sergeants committed misconduct as did the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office. Nevertheless, almost five years later the US Attorneys’ Office assembled a Grand Jury and indicted three officers Robert McGowan, Sgt. Tommy Ramos and Hector Flores with a wide variety of Federal civil rights and obstruction of justice charges.

 At trial, all officers were acquitted by order of US District Judge Manuel Real. Not to be deterred, the US Attorney appealed that acquittal to the Ninth Circuit which ordered that Officer McGowan’s acquittal be overturned and the conviction be inserted instead. This started a lengthy court battle over the nature and extent of Officer McGowan’s appeal which was as of January 2012, overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal and sent back down to the District Court for a new sentencing hearing. All of this over an inmate who had a minor cut on his forehead that investigators for the Department found was probably self-inflicted.

In many ways you cannot blame the inmate for the self-inflicted wound. He was in big trouble for his role in the riot that almost killed a correctional officer. His plan, and it worked perfectly was to injure himself and blame it on the correctional staff. The Federal government took the bait and that inmate avoided any penalty for the riot and brutal beating of a correctional officer.

Back to Lance. Why announce closure of his investigation? Probably because Armstrong’s lawyers were on to something. They probably had evidence that investigators or representatives of the US Attorneys office purposely leaked portions of the Armstrong investigation. Realizing the legal ramifications of this not to mention the public backlash they quickly closed the investigation.