Could Rock & Republic founder Michael Ball be trading skinny jeans for horizontal stripes? First his label went bankrupt in April. Days later, he was accused of arranging a sham visa marriage for Mexican soap star Fernanda Romero, a former model for R&R. Finally, about a month ago, the Daily News reported that Food and Drug Administration investigator Jeff Novitzky (the same guy who led the investigation into Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, and Roger Clemens using performance-enhancing drugs) obtained a search warrant to raid Ball’s luxury apartment in Marina del Rey, in connection with the massive doping scandal that is currently turning professional cycling upside down and destroying Lance Armstrong’s hope for a quiet retirement. (The seven-time Tour de France champ finished his last Tour two Sundays ago.)
How in the world is Ball involved in this mess? Back in 2007, he decided to sponsor a team of “bad boy” professional cyclists called Rock Racing. Bad boy, in this case, translated to tattooed, all-black-wearing, spandex-shunning cyclists, many of whom had been
convicted of sanctioned for using performance-enhancing drugs in the past and couldn’t find a berth on any other team. One of these bad boys happened to be Floyd Landis, who rode with Armstrong on the U.S. Postal Service team during several of Armstrong’s Tour de France wins. Landis won the Tour de France in 2006, then had to give up the title when he tested positive for synthetic testosterone. He denied drug use until this May, when he finally confessed, and provided authorities with e-mails detailing a systematic doping operation within the USPS team, accusing Armstrong of being both participant and facilitator. Ball’s Rock Racing team had employed Landis as a consultant after his ban from the sport ended in 2008, though he was never officially on the roster.
Novitzky’s investigation now involves Landis, Ball, another one of Ball’s riders, and Tyler Hamilton, a former USPS teammate of Armstrong’s whom Ball hired after his ban from the sport for doping ended and who then proceeded to get banned for the rest of his career for a second doping offense while he was on Rock Racing. Worse, if the Daily News reports are correct and Ball was a person of interest before the Armstrong accusations came to light, that could mean he’s not just a witness or a source of evidence, but a target and possible defendant. Oy. And to think we’d always just thought of him as the guy who once told us, “Recession? I’ve got five girlfriends now, instead of two.”