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Confession may lead to legal woes for cyclist Armstrong

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:31 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — By admitting to Oprah Winfrey that he doped during his cycling career, Lance Armstrong potentially opened himself up to a stream of litigation that could lighten his wallet for years.

And then there's the big question: Will his mea culpa result in the reopening of a criminal investigation by the U.S. government?

Some legal experts believe the disillusionment and anger directed at Armstrong will force the government to re-examine its evidence in light of his admissions. Others say revisiting the case is unlikely.

“There are no formal guidelines on reopening one, and the discretion is left to the prosecutor,” said Matthew Levine, a former federal prosecutor. “But generally there's a lot of pressure not to reopen, especially where the declination has been made public. It does happen, but it's quite rare.”

Last February, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced they were dropping their investigation into Armstrong. A grand jury heard testimony from the cyclist's former teammates and associates that could have helped prove Armstrong and some of his fellow cyclists violated federal conspiracy, fraud or racketeering charges.

No reason was given for the decision. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined comment.

In the portion of his interview with Winfrey that aired Thursday, Armstrong refused to implicate anyone. Winfrey asked him if he felt victorious when the government declined to file charges against him.

“It's hard to define victory,” Armstrong said. “But I thought I was out of the woods.”

Unlike fellow sports superstars such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens who faced criminal charges, Armstrong never spoke with federal authorities or testified before Congress, which could have led to obstruction or making false statements charges.

Peter Keane, a law professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, is convinced the criminal case will be reopened.

Because of a fraud, “he became very famous, very rich,” Keane said. “The idea of him getting a pass on it is going to be looked at with a degree of there's a double standard here. It's something (the government) takes very seriously.”

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