Associate of Lance Armstrong appears before federal grand jury

One of Lance Armstrong's close associates told a federal grand jury Wednesday that previously tape-recorded comments in which she talks negatively about the champion cyclist and is asked about performance-enhancing drug use were nothing more than "gossip sessions that just weren't true," the woman's attorney told The Times.

Stephanie McIlvain, the liaison to Armstrong employed by sponsor Oakley Inc., endured what her attorney Tom Bienert described as a "very emotional" day as she spent more than seven hours before the grand jury panel with Assistant U.S. Atty. Doug Miller and Jeff Novitzky, the Food and Drug Administration agent leading the investigation into alleged systematic drug use in cycling.

Bienert said McIlvain "testified truthfully. Most of what she was asked about was between five and 14 years old, so she didn't have the greatest recall. But she confirmed she had no personal knowledge of Lance Armstrong using or taking performance-enhancing drugs."

Bienert acknowledged he was not allowed in the grand jury room during the questioning but offered what he said were McIlvain's recollections of the session. "She's drained," he said.

Outside the court, Miller and Novitzky declined to comment. Federal prosecutors and agents may not publicly discuss secret grand jury proceedings.

McIlvain was brought in to answer questions about her accounts of what Armstrong may have told cancer doctors in 1996. Former teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, were in the hospital room along with McIlvain. The Andreus allege that Armstrong confessed to having used performance-enhancing drugs.

In a telephone conversation — allegedly recorded in 2004 — with three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond, McIlvain blasts Armstrong as a liar though she never clarifies what she accuses him of lying about.

On the tape, she tells LeMond she "heard it" but never specifies what "it" is. McIlvain goes on to tell LeMond that Armstrong's emergence as a cancer crusader was "the most disgusting thing ever for someone to do."

A year later, McIlvain testified under oath in a Texas civil case that she never heard Armstrong admit anything about using drugs in that hospital room.

Betsy Andreu has said she has given federal prosecutors voicemail recordings in which McIlvain allegedly "apologizes for lying" in the 2005 case. Andreu told prosecutors that McIlvain has said to her she was concerned that not backing Armstrong would imperil her career.

Bienert, however, said Wednesday of McIlvain, "At no time did her employer pressure her to say anything that was not honest."

Told of Bienert's comments about the content of the recordings being "gossip," Andreu said, "The weight of the evidence will show she's lying." Andreu did not elaborate.

Bienert took issue with the recordings, saying Andreu and LeMond manipulated McIlvain, who is raising an autistic son.

"It's a shame these people trying to bring Lance down used her to engage in something that was nothing more than gossip and speculation," Bienert said.

Of Wednesday's testimony, he said, "It was difficult for Stephanie to admit that her personal frailty allowed her to engage in these gossip sessions. … In the grand jury, she was going to tell the truth, and the truth is she has no knowledge of Lance Armstrong ever using performance-enhancing drugs."

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