Doping Trials: The Facts
DOPING TRIALS: THE FACTS THAT MAYBE YOU DON’T KNOW
The following is the first in a series of articles presenting facts with regard to the Criminal Trial of Dr Michele Ferrari, which ended in 2006.
Who in the last 10-12 years has had the patience to wait for the conclusions of numerous doping scandals and trials in Italy, can not fail to have noticed the disparity between the clamor of the investigation, the gravity of the allegations and the results of the criminal trials.
I would like the take the chance to briefly describe some of the chapters that characterized my trial in Bologna (2997/97), to help you understand how the investigations were carried out and how a court case that lasted more than 10 years ended on May 22, 2006 with an ACQUITTAL.
The facts hereby reported are not "my personal version of events", they are the "facts", and they are all verifiable in the official public records of all the investigations and hearings of the trial.
- THE “BLUNDER” -
The most serious offense at the base of my trial was related to art. 444cp: trade in food substances that are harmful to health.
«Because [Ferrari] distributed tablets of Animine for consumption, purchased at the Farmacia Giardini Margherita in Bologna, dangerous to the health of the taker as containing a caffeine density equal to 3.5 espressos each.»
«Caffeine is a food substance.»
Since this was the most serious offense among those listed by the Prosecution, the consequence was for my trial to take place in Bologna, with PM Giovanni Spinosa, rather than in its more natural jurisdiction, Ferrara.
The source of evidence was a photocopy of a "prescription", no date, no addressee, without my signature, bearing the wording:
Farmacia Giardini Margherita
2c 40’ prima della gara. (before the race)
This document apparently generated the offence notice that led to the opening of a criminal investigation on me.
The photocopy, the original of which was not possible to trace, had been delivered to the Marshal of the NAS of Florence Enrico Ostili by Alessandro Donati in January 1997.
Donati told Ostili that the document was given to him by an amateur cyclist from Tivoli, who in turn had received it from another amateur cyclist.
During the trial, Donati added that he actually got confused and that the copy had been delivered to him by a lawyer, Mr. Camilli, a member of CONI's Anti-doping Department.
The problem though is not so much the doubtful origin and the tortuous route of a document that was never verified, or the existence of a trade that was never confirmed, but the essence in and of itself of the offence, deemed «dangerous to health».
ANIMINE is a Belgian over-the-counter product, containing 200mg of a caffeine salt (Caffeine-Naphthylacetic Sodium) per tablet.
The theory of the Prosecution was: 2c = 400mg of caffeine = 7 espresso coffee = danger to health.
Imagine the expression of utter « surprise » of PM Dr. Spinosa and Judge Dr. Passarini in hearing the testimony at the trial of Dr. Morselli, the Technical Expert appointed by the same Prosecution, certifying that the content in caffeine of one tablet of Animine was 70mg (less than a Redbull, a little more than a Coca Cola).
Obviously the alleged offence was quickly shelved, with undisguised embarrassment, no apology given and no explanations asked to those who brought forward the unverified accusation.
- THE “ASTERISKS” -
As during the search at my home and studio, dated 08.12.1998 and disposed by PM Dr Spinosa, the NAS could not find what they were looking for (EPO, HGH, IGF-1, testosterone, DHEA, steroids, Animine, etc.), they decided to seize the "medical records" of my athletes, which reported performance tests, training programs and laboratory tests.
Since the most significant and demanding training sessions in my schedules were marked with asterisks, the investigations, orchestrated by Marshal Ostili, aimed towards a certain meaning: * = intake of doping substance.
This interpretation originated from the confused and not very plausible statements of Fabrizio Convalle to the Prosecution of Lucca on 01/24/1997: «In 1992, Dr. Ferrari gave me 10 anonymous VIALS...which I had to inject myself, intramuscularly, after having completed 50 km of a training session marked by an asterisk. »
«I took about 10 shots, one per day… despite the cure taken in that season I did not win a single race.»
It was actually a homeopathic remedy (Vis - Heel vials) intended to strengthen the immune system in the imminence of the Giro d' Italia of 1992.
The summoning of Convalle to the Prosecution office in Lucca was indeed the consequence of an article appeared on La Gazzetta dello Sport dated 12/28/96 with the title: “Sì ho fatto uso di EPO. Clamorosa denuncia di Convalle, ex corridore che accusa lo sponsor Fanini e il medico Ferrari”. (Yes I took EPO. Sensational report of Convalle, an ex-rider accusing the sponsor Fanini and Dr. Ferrari)
In this regard, at the trial hearing, Convalle declared: «I never said that I had used EPO ... I sued Gazzetta, because I did not say those things»... «They have published it as they wanted».
Marshal Ostili summoned Convalle again on 04/07/1997: the VIALS then became «a total of about 20... and the content was to be injected subcutaneously», suggesting an administration that was more compatible with the hypothesis that the vials contained EPO.
Marshal Ostili summoned Convalle a third time on 10/02/97: the vials were then accurately described as SMALL BOTTLES (EPO did not actually exist in vial form): «2-3 cm tall with an aluminum cap; I cannot exactly remember if the rubber on top was red… Dr. Ferrari gave me A TOTAL of 20 small bottles… and was pointing to the intake with an asterisk on the training schedules.»
A year later, October the 2nd of 1998, Marshal Enrico Ostili was once again summoning Convalle, who presented several paper sheets with training schedules and mentioned the delivery of a total of 20 small bottles, to inject subcutaneously with insulin-type syringes and to store in the refrigerator.
The paper sheets reported the training sessions, to perform in consecutive days. The most demanding sessions were marked with a *; at the bottom of the page there was a clearly written note: “Vigoplus (maltodestrine) 1-3 buste dopo allenamento * “. (Vigoplus (maltodextrines) 1-3 sachets after training *).
At the trial in 2002, Convalle, answering to a specific question of the Judge, restated that «every asterisk corresponded to one small bottle», which in the mean time became «30 in total»; upon the verification that the total number of asterisks on the paper sheets was higher than 60… he responded «Dr. Ferrari used to deliver me 10 bottles at a time».
It was then brought to his attention that the paper sheets he provided reported a test in Ferrara, followed by a second test about 15 days later: there were a total of 25 asterisks in between the 2 tests, therefore, according to his statements, Dr Ferrari should have delivered him 25 bottles all at once…
I leave you to the considerations on the testimony of Convalle, which was decisive in the construction of the alleged accusation * = doping.
The court testimony of Marshal Ostili during my trial with regard to the way the investigation on myself had begun and had been carried out, was characterized by profuse sweating and dozens of «I don’t remember».
Chief Marshal Enrico Ostili was truly the operating mind behind all the investigations, which he followed, addressed and “rekindled” whenever they were turning null since the very beginning.
As a side note, I would like to remind you that on 03/21/2010 Marshal Ostili was arrested on charges of corruption, forgery and abuse of authority, in the context of an investigation by the Prosecution of Prato.
In the course of the trial debate, ALL of the cyclists summoned as witness (apart from Filippo Simeoni called in as a witness accused of crimes related to doping) confirmed that the asterisks indicated the intake of perfectly legal supplements: maltodextrines, aminoacids, vitamins.
Eventually even the Judge admitted that it was not possible to attribute a certain meaning to the asterisks.
- THE BLITZ AT TROFEO LAIGUEGLIA -
On February 16th 1999, Public Prosecutor Giovanni Spinosa showed up smiling and displaying an impeccable cycling suit at the start of the race (Trofeo Laigueglia), encircled by curious reporters and riders.
Immediately after the race finish, six of the riders that I followed were surrounded by journalists and cameras and quickly transferred to the police station in Alassio in order to be questioned, as “persone informate sui fatti” (people informed on the facts).
While five of them declared that the asterisks indicated vitamins and aminoacids and were then released rather quickly, Gianluca Bortolami was retained much longer.
Bortolami was at the time riding for Festina, the French team dramatically involved in the scandal at the Tour de France of the previous summer, which saw its riders treated very “roughly” by the French gendarmes.
Bortolami, questioned as usual by Marshal Ostili, was released only after signing that "the asterisks were a proposal for EPO, though he did not accept."
Simultaneously to the Blitz in Laigueglia, I was subject to a second house and studio search: they claimed they were looking for drugs, hidden documents and even secret “bunkers” and cameras in the backyard. Naturally, nothing was found.
The following day, some newspapers were already writing of “EPO, asterisks and admissions by at least one rider”.
During the trial, Bortolami, under oath, declared to the Judge: «in Alassio, as soon as we passed the finish line, we found ourselves in the midst on journalists and carabinieri (police)… I was taken away and questioned… after 4 hours I found myself in a situation in which either I was telling that or I would not have gotten out of that room… I was forced to say in that way in order to get out of there.» «The asterisks did not correspond to EPO proposals, but were an indication of supplement intake.»
- FILIPPO SIMEONI -
I met Simeoni for the first time in November 1996, the last time in July 1997.
Davide Boifava, the then sports director of his team (Asics) and of team Carrera in the past, addressed him to my studio.
Boifava told me “he had welcomed Simeoni as a son ever since he was an amateur, housing him in Brescia for a long time and he was convinced that his athletic potential had grown naturally”.
As we’ll see, Simeoni had lied a little to him back then already…
In our first encounter, Simeoni showed me his most recent blood analyses dated 11/09/96, one week before our meeting: Hct was 50.2; ferritin was 1200.
Alarmed by such a high value in ferritin, I advised him to sign up with AVIS (Italian associations of blood donors), and perform a couple of blood donations during the winter.
In January 1997, thanks to two blood donations, his Hct dropped to 40.5 and ferritin to 700. In the following months, after the natural recovery from the two donations, his Hct oscillated between 44 and 47.
Simeoni never mentioned his past use of doping products to myself, indirectly confirming what Boifava told me.
During the following season, his race performances were just mediocre: at the start of the Giro in 1997, his Hct was 42.5 (official UCI control). He was forced to abandon at the 12th stage for a case of tendinitis.
Not satisfied with his performance, he interrupted his cooperation with me shortly thereafter.
On March 8th 1999, three weeks after the Laigueglia Blitz, Simeoni, along with some other athletes of mine, was questioned by NAS and repeated the same “formula” signed by Bortolami in Alassio: Dr Ferrari marked with asterisks the proposal of Andriol and EPO, a proposal that «I did not accede to, afraid of the side effects».
Rapidly released, he tranquilly went back home, not knowing what was about to come his way…
On June 29th he received a search warrant at his home in Sezze, on disposition of PM Soprani of Ferrara, who at the time was investigating the Conconi-CONI matters.
31 packages of medicines were seized, some of hospital origin, along with eight personal diaries, where he had recorded all the doping therapies he underwent, since 1992:
- Winstrol (stanozolol, anabolic steoid)
- Oxandrolone (anabolic)
- Andriol (testosterone)
- Profasi (chorionic gonadotropin)
- Lutrelef (gonadotropin)
- Bentelan (cortisone)
- EPO (202000 U in 1996 alone)
- HGH (human growth hormone)
All of this was organized in several structured and sophisticated cycles, repeated over the years, well before the cooperation with Dr. Ferrari.
Summoned by Marshal Ostili on July 12th 1999, he declared himself «surprised for the search warrant, given his statement of March 8th»…
He restated the accusations about me, in particular: * = Andriol to take after “tough training sessions”.
But in his diary of 1997, the one of the “Ferrari period”, Andriol was never mentioned, whereas in previous years the consumption of “Andriol after tough sessions” was clearly indicated.
In his testimony at the trial in 2002, he stated that "he was aware of the traceability for two-three days after intake of Andriol in anti-doping controls".
This clearly contrasted with the asterisks showing in my training schedule after the Giro dell’ Etna* and the Trofeo Pantalica*, 2 competitions that took place in consecutive days, on March 2nd and 3rd 1997: if * = Andriol, a possible consumption less than 24h from a probable anti-doping control is, quite frankly, not plausible.
In the questioning sessions of the 12th and 15th of July 1999, in front of Marshal Ostili and PM Soprani, he revealed he had been initiated to doping and the use of EPO in particular by another doctor, with whom he kept contacts even during the period he was cooperating with Dr Ferrari.
He further declared that in 1995, his first year as a professional, “he did not take any EPO in order to give the impression of an athletic potential that was entirely built naturally: «in one word, I did not wanted to make a fool of myself»… (with the blessing of Boifava).
He added that he decided to cease the relationship with Dr Ferrari because “he was not treating me pharmacologically with the same efficacy as he was treating other athletes”.
In the diaries of the years after the “Ferrari period”, with regard to the years 1998 and 1999, EPO and HGH clearly showed up again, with Hct values of 51.4, 52.2, 51.5 and EPO consumption indicated during the Tour de France of 1998.
On October 8th 2001, a few months before his testimony at the trial, Simeoni was summoned by the Anti-Doping Department of CONI: he declared that he did not want to answer to or confirm facts from which his own criminal or disciplinary responsibility could emerge, but he was open to questions regarding third party liability.
He confirmed the statements he had given to the Investigators, restated that Dr Ferrari never delivered him any doping substance and that he did not intend to answer about his actual consumption of doping substances.
The Anti-doping Department, thanks to such cooperation, banned Simeoni for three months only: November, December and January, a period without competitions…
In the trial hearing of 2002, Simeoni was as a matter of fact not a “pure witness”, but was heard as a witness investigated in crimes related to doping: handling of stolen goods (the drugs with hospital origin) and aiding and abetting (for refusing to reveal the source of the doping products).
As a consequence, his accusations had to be confirmed by relevant, objective and pertinent evidence, which frankly was not presented during the trial.
Subsequently, nothing was heard with regard to the criminal proceedings against him.
To Be Continued…