Steroid Cop Quizzes Lance Armstrong's Ex-Teammates
He's been called high-minded, a trailblazing lawman and America's top steroid cop. Federal agent Novitzky is becoming big name in pro cycling.
He's been called high-minded, a trailblazing lawman and "America's top steroid cop."
For someone who does his best work behind the scenes, federal agent Jeff Novitzky is hardly a stranger to the spotlight. And depending on the results of an ongoing investigation into the sometimes-shadowy world of pro cycling, he could soon become better-known still.
After hounding home-run king Barry Bonds for years and wringing a confession from Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, Novitzky is leading an investigation that has questioned sponsors and examined claims from former teammates of Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion. A grand jury has been seated in Los Angeles to hear evidence in the investigation over the coming weeks and months, and Armstrong sponsors Trek Bicycle Corp. and Nike each said Friday that they've been contacted by federal agents.
"I'm just glad he ain't after me," said attorney Richard Emery. "He is a nightmare for anyone that's he's focused on."
Emery represents Brian McNamee, the one-time personal trainer who accused former New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens of using steroids. The attorney ticks off a list of qualities that anyone who's worked with Novitzky would recognize and even his critics would concede: smart, meticulous, sophisticated, well-prepared and "straight as an arrow."
"He's creative," Emery added, "a bulldog. And very charming in his ability to bring people out."
But the people Novitzky pursues complain his tactics range much further afield.
Defense attorneys have accused him of carrying out vendettas against their clients, leaking information, fabricating evidence and intimidating witnesses along the way. More than one judge has raised doubts about the way he conducts investigations.
"What ever happened to the Fourth Amendment?" U.S. District Judge James Mahan wrote about a 2004 search-and-seizure case, in which Novitzky had a warrant to collect information on 10 baseball players -- but ended up seizing material from more than 100.
Like Mahan, two other district court judges ruled the government acted illegally. One said the government's tactics constituted "harassment." A specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals agreed; Novitzky was required to return the names and has been prohibited from using them to expand his investigation. A government appeal is pending.
That hasn't deterred prosecutors from taking a shot with Novitzky.
"Despite the criticism that has been lofted his way, he has always been able to prove his critics wrong," said Kevin Ryan, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco during the height of the BALCO prosecutions. "He's relentless. He's ethical. He's a very good investigator."
Novitzky has carved out a specialty going after high-profile sports figures by bringing an athlete's pedigree and an accounting degree to his work, first with the Internal Revenue Service, and, since spring 2008, with the Food and Drug Administration.
What quickly set him apart from the other government investigators scouring financial records was his willingness to crawl into a trash container behind the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in 2002 and collect the documents himself. Next, he took a crash course in performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, from one of the best in the