Landis agrees to repay doping defense fund donors

Floyd Landis speaks during a press conference in Geelong, Australia, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010 ahead of the road cycling world championships. Disgraced U.S. cyclist Landis says he waited almost four years to reveal his doping because he knew once he'd admitted lying, he would not be believed about the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport. (Rob Griffith)

August 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Cyclist Floyd Landis pleaded not guilty to wire fraud on Friday but made a deal with prosecutors who agreed to defer prosecution on condition he makes restitution to people from whom he raised money to fund his fight against doping charges.

Landis admitted to defrauding 1,765 people out of $478,354. As part of his agreement, he agreed to repay them in three years.

If he fails to repay, the U.S. attorney's office may pursue charges, which expose him to up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern successfully urged U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Alder to release Landis without bail.

"I think it's safe to say Mr. Landis has known about these proceedings for months, if not over a year. Mr. Landis has always been extremely cooperative," Halpern said.

Halpern told reporters that the restitution amount represents "every penny" Landis raised on the false pretense that he didn't take performance-enhancing drugs. Donors contributed as much as $50,000 each.

Halpern credited Landis for coming clean in 2010 and helping expose doping in cycling.

"This agreement reflects that," he said.

Landis, 36, won the Tour de France in 2006 but was stripped of the title after an arbitration panel upheld the results of a positive test for synthetic testosterone. After strenuous denials and a protracted fight in courts around the world, Landis acknowledged using performance-enhancing substances and has alleged widespread doping on his U.S. Postal Service team, which included seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Friday stripped Armstrong of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life from the sport after concluding he used banned substances. Armstrong, whose victories after his comeback from cancer helped him transcend sports, said Thursday that he chose to not pursue arbitration with the agency. It was Armstrong's last option in his bitter fight with USADA.

The action leaves Greg LeMond as the only American to win the race.

U-T San Diego reported in April that Landis was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in an FBI-led probe into whether he had fraudulently solicited donations for his legal defense. While denying the doping allegations, he raised an estimated $1 million for the Floyd Fairness Fund in a failed effort to avoid a competition ban from USADA.

Landis spent the winter and spring of 2007 holding town hall meetings across the country to raise money, the newspaper reported. Most of the town hall meetings had an entry fee, plus an auction of bikes, racing jerseys and other Landis memorabilia.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in 2008 that Landis doped before a stunning victory in Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour. He was 8 minutes behind Spain's Oscar Pereiro to start that day and trimmed the Spaniard's lead to a mere 30 seconds before eventually prevailing.

"The best performance in the modern history of the Tour," former Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc said at the time.

Landis' samples taken after that stage revealed a testosterone/epitestosterone ratio of 11:1 -- nearly three times the 4:1 limit. Eventually, he became the first Tour champion to be stripped of his title.

In January 2011, the disgraced cyclist announced his retirement from professional racing, saying the battle to fix the sport's drug-tainted image is "not my fight." Landis said then that he had been unable to find a salaried position in cycling since May 2010, when he publicly alleged widespread drug use in cycling, specifically identifying Armstrong.

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