- Bonnie D. Ford, Enterprise and Olympic Sports
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Lance Armstrong, facing pressure on and off the road in his final Tour de France, told reporters at the race Wednesday that he did not have any financial interest in the management company that owned his U.S. Postal Service team at the height of his career.
However, Armstrong's statements -- made before the start of Stage 10 of the Tour -- appear to contradict his sworn testimony in a deposition taken in 2005 during the course of a lawsuit against SCA Promotions.
Armstrong was responding to reports about a federal investigation of possible fraud and doping charges against him and former associates, a probe led by U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent Jeff Novitsky. Grand jury subpoenas have been issued in the investigation, ESPN.com has confirmed.
The seven-time Tour winner said Wednesday he had not been contacted by any federal investigators. He once again denied doping or facilitating doping and asserted he was not involved in the business side of the cycling operation during the period being scrutinized by investigators.
Tailwind Sports owned the Postal team for several years before entering into a management services contract with Capital Sports & Entertainment, the Austin-based firm that represents Armstrong. The two entities jointly co-owned and managed the team from 2004 through 2007 and were connected at that time through Armstrong's longtime agent Bill Stapleton, who founded and is still a principal of CS&E and formerly served as CEO of the now-defunct Tailwind.
The U.S. Postal Service bowed out as title sponsor of the team after the 2004 season, when Discovery Communications took over the primary financial backing of the team.
"I was a rider on the team, I was contracted with Tailwind Sports, I never had any dealings -- any -- with the Postal Service -- zero," Armstrong said. "I didn't own the company. I didn't have an equity stake. I didn't have a profit stake, I didn't have a seat on the board. I can't be any clearer than that."
According to The New York Times, Armstrong added, "That's the truth and that's what the contracts say and that's what will come out."
Yet in November 2005, a few months after his first retirement, Armstrong said under oath that he owned a small stake in Tailwind, although he was vague about when he acquired it. Armstrong gave that deposition in the course of a lawsuit he brought against SCA to recover a $5 million bonus promised when he won his sixth consecutive Tour. SCA refused to pay the bonus after doping allegations surfaced against Armstrong. The case went to arbitration and was eventually settled in Armstrong's favor before the panel ruled.
In the text of the deposition, obtained by ESPN.com several months ago, Armstrong responded this way to questioning by attorney Jeff Tillotson, who represented SCA:
Q. Can you tell us what your relationship, first, your business relationship with Tailwind Sports, is?
A. I'm an athlete on the team.
Q. Do you have any ownership interest in Tailwind Sports?
A. A small one.
Q. When you say a small one, can you give me an approximate percentage as to what that would be, if you know?
A. Perhaps 10 percent.
Q. Do you know when you acquired that ownership interest?
A. No. I don't remember.
Q. Would it have been in 2005, or before that?
A. I don't remember.
Q. Do you have any -- is there -- do you have any recollection as to when it would have been? '02? '03? '04?
A. Before today.
Q. OK. Would it have been before 2001?
A. Probably not, but I'm not a hundred percent sure.
Q. Who would know the answer to that question as to when you acquired an ownership interest in Tailwind?
A. Bill Stapleton.
Q. Is there documentation? Like do you have papers or an ownership certificate of some sort that reflects your ownership interest in Tailwind?
A. I'm sure there is.
"[Armstrong] identified himself as a co-owner under oath, and he never retracted it," Tillotson told ESPN.com Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Dallas office. "We assumed those statements were truthful when he gave them. Put it this way -- there were many statements Lance Armstrong gave under oath that we had trouble believing. This was not one of them."
In a separate deposition taken in September 2005, Stapleton, also questioned by Tillotson, said Armstrong was among "10 or 15" owners of Tailwind. Stapleton said he thought the cyclist controlled 11.5 percent of the company, the same percentage as CS&E.
It was unclear from the legal documents obtained by ESPN.com exactly when Armstrong actually invested in Tailwind -- before or after the U.S. Postal Service dropped its sponsorship.
Stapleton said in his deposition that Armstrong and CS&E acquired their stakes in the San Francisco-based company simultaneously as part of a third round of private equity investment in Tailwind, which had been through two previous rounds to raise money before CS&E became involved.
"The owners as they existed then were diluted, and ownership was given to Lance and to CS&E," Stapleton, then the CEO of Tailwind, testified.
Stapleton added that he did not think that Armstrong's ownership in Tailwind had been formalized prior to the 2004 Tour.
"It was certainly intended by the summer of 2004," Stapleton testified. "I don't think it was executed."
Late Wednesday, Armstrong's personal lawyer Tim Herman issued a statement regarding Armstrong's ownership stake in Tailwind, saying he was trying to clear up "questions and confusion:"
"In December of 2007, Lance Armstrong received his first shares of common stock of Tailwind Sports Corp.," Herman's statement said. "Tailwind had not previously issued any shares of stock to Lance before 2007. The confusion on the timing, which is not new, stems from the fact that the Board of Directors of Tailwind decided in 2004 to approve the issuance of shares of Tailwind stock to Lance and others as consideration for valuable services that had been provided to the company. Although the Board of Directors told the intended recipients in 2004 that the stock would be issued, the stock was not actually awarded to Lance and the others until December 2007.
"Thus, when Lance was asked questions about it in 2005, he truthfully answered that he believed he was a small minority owner in Tailwind but did not know or understand the details. Those details were finalized in December of 2007 based on the Board's actions and communications in 2004," he said.
Herman called any questions about Armstrong's ownership in Tailwind "an attempt to create the proverbial mountain out of a molehill. ... Tailwind was operated in a legal, legitimate manner and Lance was a rider for Tailwind, not a manager. Lance has always accurately stated his understanding of whether and how much of Tailwind he owned and his comments today about not acquiring ownership until 2007 are no different."
The federal investigation was triggered when Armstrong's former teammate Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title for doping, said the use of banned substances was common on the U.S. Postal Service team when he rode with Armstrong.
"Like I said, as long as we have a legitimate and credible and fair investigation, we'll be happy to cooperate, but I'm not going to participate in any kind of witch hunt," Armstrong said. "I've done too many good things for too many people."
He maintained that stories are being leaked to the media as part of an "agenda" against him and questioned the need for a federal probe.
"Would the American people feel like this is a good use of their tax dollars?" he said. "That's for them to decide."
Armstrong repeated that Landis, who recently admitted to doping after years of denials, cannot be believed. He also said he didn't believe that other riders had come forward with similar allegations.
"I don't think the government will build a case on Floyd Landis," said Armstrong. "His credibility left a long time ago."
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN's T.J. Quinn and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Lance Armstrong's statements -- made before the start of Stage 10 of the Tour -- appear to contradict his sworn testimony in a deposition taken in 2005 during the course of a lawsuit against SCA Promotions.