Floyd Landis, who lost his 2006 Tour de France title to a doping conviction, was arraigned Friday morning in U.S. District Court in San Diego on a single count of wire fraud related to fundraising for his legal defense, but under an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, his case will be dismissed if he repays donors within three years.
The deferred prosecution agreement sets out conditions under which Landis could make restitution of nearly a half-million dollars to those who contributed to the long-defunct Floyd Fairness Fund -- provided that he is able to earn income himself. It also enables him to lower that liability by seeking waivers from donors who don't want their money back.
If Landis complies with the terms of the agreement, he will avoid a felony conviction and bring to an end the convoluted legal saga that began six years ago when he denied ever having used performance-enhancing drugs after testing positive for synthetic testosterone at the 2006 Tour de France. In 2010, he confessed to having doped then and throughout much of his career.
"I'm glad to have a concrete procedure for repayment in place," Landis told ESPN.com on Thursday. "For me, taking the step of making restitution to the donors who were misled back then is one more step in righting the wrong choices I made and allows me to turn the page and to focus on what's next in life for me.
"I can never undo what happened, but to the extent that there are ways such as this that I can try to rectify things, I'll be more able to focus on the future and living an honest life after having done them."
The core of the charge is straightforward, according to the document to be signed in court Friday: Landis "knowingly participated in a scheme or plan to defraud ... money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations or promises." Had he told the truth about his past, extensive use of doping, the prosecutors reasoned, at least some donors would not have been willing to help fund his defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern successfully urged U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Alder to release Landis without bail Friday.
The FFF was established in late 2006 as a trust for Landis' benefit to defray his costs, which totaled close to $2 million and exhausted his own savings. He and his advisers held a series of town meeting-style fundraisers during which they attacked not only the specifics of his own case but the system for adjudicating anti-doping cases as a whole.
Some 1,500 donors whose contributions totaled $478,354 were identified through financial records detailing payments by check and PayPal accounts to the FFF, which was closed in late 2007.
Landis said he knows of several large donors who do not want to be repaid. Those who do will be reimbursed through the court, which in turn will collect a portion of Landis' earnings depending on how much he makes. He will be obligated to fully disclose his financial assets to the court.
If Landis and his lawyer, Leo Cunningham, had not reached the agreement with federal prosecutors, Landis could have faced up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and mandatory restitution to all victims.
Landis unsuccessfully contested doping sanctions through two rounds of arbitration and served a two-year suspension. He returned to professional cycling in 2009 but was unable to regain his prior form or find a job with a top-level team despite making overtures to several elite organizations, including the team then led by Lance Armstrong.
Landis rode in support of three of Armstrong's Tour victories with the U.S. Postal Service team from 2002-04, but rode the 2006 Tour for Switzerland-based Phonak.
Publicly, Landis continued to maintain that he had been unfairly convicted, but that façade began to crack in early 2010, when he emailed various figures in the cycling industry saying he was prepared to confess to his own doping past and air what he said he knew about organized doping on Armstrong's Postal teams. The emails were leaked to various media outlets that May, and in an interview with ESPN.com, Landis admitted he had used performance-enhancing substances and techniques for several years.
Armstrong has consistently denied doping allegations leveled by Landis and others, but on Thursday night, he dropped any further challenges to U.S. Anti-Doping Agency allegations that he took performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour from 1999-2005.
As a result, USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said the agency will ban Armstrong from cycling for life and strip him of his seven Tour titles.
Landis' confession and allegations, which he also made in separate interviews with officials from the USADA and government investigators, prompted Los Angeles-based federal authorities to expand an ongoing probe of doping in U.S. professional cycling and focus on Armstrong and his associates. Landis cooperated with investigators, and at one juncture, agreed to wear a wire to aid in gathering evidence on one former team owner not associated with Armstrong.
That investigation was dropped last February without explanation by Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California -- a different jurisdiction than the Southern District, where the fraud investigation into Landis was conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.