For almost a year the United States government has been investigating whether Lance Armstrong and his teams (U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel) used performance enhancing drugs between 1999 and 2005. You will remember that Armstrong nearly died as a result of testicular cancer and came back to win a record seven Tours de France. One might ask why the United States government would spend so much time, energy and precious recession era dollars doing an investigation when no crime was committed and arguably, there are no victims? Armstrong is now fully retired from cycling and has not won a Tour de France since 2005. And even if Armstrong was using the performance enhancing drugs popular in the cycling community at that time, it was not a crime in the United States. At most, there might be criminal violation in France, Italy or Spain under various vague Asporting fraud@ statutes that are rarely prosecuted. So again the question: What is the United States government doing?
 Based on the team of investigators, lawyers and agents assigned to the investigation, the Armstrong investigation appears to be one of those in search of a crime. The government is devoting so many resources to the Armstrong investigation that there is tremendous pressure to come up with something, regardless of the facts. In reality, the government could care less about doping among professional cyclists. As with other high profile federal prosecutions like Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Martha Stewart, Scorter Libby, and Indy care racer Helio Castroneves, the government is interested in one of its favorite charges: obstruction of justice.
The obstruction of justice statutes are commonly used to scare high profile subjects. And its investigation of those subjects that gets U.S. Attorneys and FBI agents promoted. The obstruction of justice statutes contained in Chapter 73, Title 18 of the United States Code. Specifically, 18 USC Section 1501 through Section 1521. The obstruction of justice statute were initially enacted many decades ago to help combat various forms of organized crime and government corruption. Since that time, the obstruction of justice statutes have been widely used to prosecute high profile white-collar subjects.
The particular favorite to the US attorney is Section 1512 (b) (3) which states as follows: 18 USC Section 1512 (b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with the intent to—- (3) hinder, delay, or prevent the communication to a law enforcement officers or judge of the United States of information relating to the commission or possible commission of a federal offense…. Under Section 1512 (b) (3) the subject may only engage in Amisleading conduct which hinders, delays, or prevent communication of some information to a law enforcement officer. There does not need to be a federal investigation pending at the time nor does the subject need to be aware that possibly, some day a federal investigation may commence. The most common example were subjects are prosecuted for obstruction of justice under Section 1512 (b) (3) is where the subject writes a report, gives a statement, is court or deposition testimony or conveys other information. Years later, that statement becomes part of a federal investigation where the United States government alleges that it was somehow misleading or designed to hinder, delay or prevent the communication of information to a law enforcement officer.
In Armstrong’s case, the trap may have unwittingly been set years before in a seemingly irrelevant defamation lawsuit Armstrong filed and won. In that lawsuit, Armstrong’s deposition was taken and he was asked a series of short but clear questions about his use of performance enhancing drugs during his cycling career. Armstrong clearly denied that he had ever used banned substances to enhancing his cycling career. The statement (Armstrong’s deposition testimony in this case) is exactly the type of statement the government looks for to put together an obstruction of justice charge. Never mind the fact the deposition was given in the course of a civil matter, Armstrong was never under investigation and no party ever intended the investigation to get in the hands of federal investigators. No worries for the US Attorney, they simply put the obstruction of justice statutes to work. And do not think the US government is simply focusing on high profile world celebrities like Lance Armstrong. The government uses the same tactic in all of its high profile cases which include peace officers, government officials, elected officials, and finally high profile celebrities like Armstrong.  Closer to home, the most recent example is the indictment of four City of Fresno police officers for a civil rights violations and obstruction of justice arising from their arrest of a felony suspect five years before. On October 8, 2010, a Federal Grand Jury indicted current and former Fresno Police Officers Christopher Coleman, Paul Van Dalen, Sean Plymale, and Michael Manfredi for their arrest of a felony suspect on October 10, 2005. Like the Armstrong case, the Fresno Police Officers raise the same question: Why would the Federal government bother when county and state prosecutorial agencies declined to prosecute the officers, all civil matters have long since been settled and all officers involved have moved on with their careers? Answer: As with Lance Armstrong, because they can.