Did Tyler Hamilton Plan a Confrontation with Lance Armstrong?

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Lance Armstrong has been the subject of several doping accusations over the past decade during his domination of cycling’s most prestigious event, the Tour de France. Not only has Armstrong dominated the competition but he has arguably destroyed the lives of his accusers with his high-powered legal and public relations team. The wrath of Lance Armstrong has become legendary.

Former professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton is the latest person to publicly accuse Armstrong of using performance-enhancing drugs. Hamilton went public with his accusations on the CBS television news magazine “60 Minutes” with claims that Lance Armstrong used anabolic steroids such as testosterone along with blood boosters such as erythropoietin (EPO).

Tyler Hamilton clearly knew what was coming when he went public. So, it seems somewhat calculated that Hamilton would go to the Cache Cache bistro in Aspen, a well-known Lance Armstrong hangout owned by a close personal friend of Armstrong, and just happen to walk right past Lance Armstrong. It’s almost as if Hamilton was seeking a confrontation with Armstrong. Hamilton, via his attorney Chris Manderson, then contacted federal investigators characterizing the incident as an “aggressive” and “threaten[ing]” altercation. Furthermore, Manderson promoted the idea of witness tampering to a media all too eager to pursue another athlete in a steroid witch-hunt.

He said Hamilton told him Armstrong repeatedly asked how much he had been paid to do the television interview, and added that his legal team would “(expletive) destroy you,” “tear you apart on the witness stand,” and “make your life a living (expletive) hell.”

Manderson said Hamilton was unnerved by the episode. The lawyer said he felt compelled to inform federal authorities of the incident.

“Lance Armstrong is a possible defendant in an investigation that’s been widely reported, and Tyler is a probable witness,” Manderson said. “When there’s any contact, especially aggressive contact, we as lawyers have a duty to inform the authorities. … What they will do with it, I don’t know.”

The government couldn’t have asked for a better break in the Lance Armstrong case. Establishing a “witness tampering” charge would be of great benefit to the federal prosecutors pursuing Lance Armstrong by possibly extending the statute of limitations  in which the government can build its case. Richard Cutler of the Dechert LLP law firm explained to ESPN how this could really hurt Armstrong.

“If I were the prosecutor, my investigator would be going to talk to Hamilton,” said Cutler, now with the firm of Dechert LLP. “This, to me, is a game-changer.”

A charge of witness tampering could also affect any statute of limitations issues prosecutors might be facing by extending the timeline forward to the present day, Cutler added.

The main focus of the investigation is the years 1999-2004, when Armstrong rode for the U.S. Postal Service team. Authorities are considering whether evidence supports possible charges of fraud and conspiracy in relation to use of sponsorship funds for alleged organized doping.

Even if Tyler Hamilton initiated the confrontation with Lance Armstrong with a calculated trip to Armstrong’s Aspen hangout, does it matter? If Hamilton’s account of the verbal confrontation with Armstrong is truthful, perhaps this will be sufficient for a grand jury to indict Armstrong on witness tampering charges.

Lance Armstrong

Photo credit: Millard Baker

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