It's not easy being a regulator as of late. Between a budget situation that borders on apocalyptic, the occasional scandal, a hard-to-please industry and the difficulties of actually doing their job, you might say those who work for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have it pretty rough. And that's before a global celebrity hires a law firm to go after one of them personally.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that now-disgraced bicycling phenomenon Lance Armstrong had been the subject of an anti-doping investigation led in part by FDA official Jeff Novitzky, who joined the organization as a special agent in its Office of Criminal Investigations in 2008 after a 15-year career with the Internal Revenue Service.
Novitzky had gained notoriety during his career for his ability to go after some of the biggest names in sports, among them Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, as part of his case against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) company for steroid distribution charges.
But if Novitzky had it rough going after some of baseball's biggest names, the WSJ reports that his battle against Armstrong would come to represent something far uglier-and more personal.
In 2010, they report, Armstrong was under investigation by Novitzky, who had already made headlines for going after the bicyclist's former teammates. Rather than cooperate, Armstrong reportedly hired a Washington, DC law firm, the Ben Barnes Group, explicitly to raise concerns about Novitzky and whether he was fit to conduct the investigation.
The total cost to Armstrong: a reported $50,000, though it's unclear if any activities actually came to fruition. The report notes that numerous meetings had been arranged with congressional staff, but that the plan was ultimately scrapped after lawyers determined that "there was no congressional path forward."
"No congressman in his or her right mind would try to interfere with a criminal investigation," explained Kent Caperton, principal of the Ben Barnes Group, who spoke with the paper about his firm's activities.
Armstrong's representatives did not respond to requests for comment by the WSJ regarding the allegations.
Novitzky's investigation was eventually dropped in 2012 amid Armstrong's repeated attestations of innocence. In January 2013, Armstrong confessed to using steroids throughout his career, and a 6 February 2013 report by USA Today indicates that FDA continues to look into "loose ends" related to the case. Armstrong, meanwhile, continues to fight any investigations.
Regulatory Focus reached out to FDA, which confirmed that Novitsky is still employed by the agency.