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Lance Armstrong's doctor linked to more top riders

Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari, right, gestures as

Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari, right, gestures as he talks with his lawyer, Dario Bolognesi, as they leave Bologna's tribunal. Credit: Getty Images, 2004

MILAN -- At least 15 more cyclists reportedly have been linked to Lance Armstrong's banned Italian sport doctor in an intricate scheme of money laundering, tax evasion and widespread doping.

Former Giro d'Italia winners Michele Scarponi and Denis Menchov, and this year's Olympic champion Alexandre Vinokourov, are under investigation for doping under the supervision of Dr. Michele Ferrari, the Gazzetta dello Sport reported Friday.

Citing documents from an inquiry led by Padua prosecutor Benedetto Roberti, the Gazzetta detailed how Ferrari allegedly masterminded a $40 million operation where riders and teams avoided taxes by recycling money via Gibraltar, Monte Carlo, Switzerland and South America.

Ferrari and the cyclists deny wrongdoing.

Roberti has been leading a sweeping investigation of Ferrari for several years, parts of which were used in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report detailing why it banned Armstrong for life and ordered him to stripped of all seven of his Tour de France titles.

Armstrong has acknowledged that Ferrari was his trainer until 2004, and Ferrari's name is mentioned throughout the USADA report. In July, USADA banned Ferrari for life.

Roberti told The Associated Press last week that his inquiry was nearly finished.

Doping is a crime in Italy, and Ferrari was already cleared on appeal in 2006 of criminal charges of distributing banned products to athletes. But he remains barred for life by the Italian Cycling Federation under a 2002 ruling.

Ferrari is reportedly under investigation again in Italy for criminal association, trafficking and administering doping substances, tax evasion and money laundering.

Investigators placed hidden microphones in the camper van that Ferrari used to meet with cyclists in remote areas of Italy and in Switzerland, the Gazzetta said. The newspaper printed a phone-tap conversation between Scarponi and Ferrari inside the van in September 2010 during which the rider said he could win the following year's Giro and the doctor replied that if he used a blood transfusion he had a chance.

Scarponi finished second in the 2011 Giro but then was bumped up to champion when Alberto Contador was stripped of the title for doping at the 2010 Tour de France. Vincenzo Nibali finished behind Scarponi.

In 2007, Scarponi was banned for 18 months for involvement in the Spanish doping scandal Operation Puerto.

Police also tapped a September 2010 phone call between Menchov and agent Raimondo Scimone during which the Russian rider tells the agent that he wants "all the cyclists working with him followed by Ferrari," according to the Gazzetta.

Scimone wrote in a statement to the paper that he was never involved in doping or wrongdoing.

Menchov raced with the Rabobank team from 2005-2010 and won the Giro in 2009. He also won the Spanish Vuelta in 2005 and 2007.

Rabobank announced Friday that it is ending its long sponsorship of professional cycling, saying "the trust in the cycling world has gone" following the publication of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's report on Armstrong.

Vinokourov is also reportedly under investigation by Roberti. He won the men's road race at the London Olympics, having served a two-year ban after testing positive for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France. The Kazakh rider retired at the end of this season.

Others reportedly under investigation are Armstrong's former teammates Yaroslav Popovych and Volodymyr Bileka; Russian riders Alexandr Kolobnev, Vladimir Karpets, Vladimir Gusev, Mikhail Ignatiev; Czech rider Roman Kreuziger; and Italians Filippo Pozzato, Lorenzo Bertagnolli, Giovanni Visconti and Franco Pellizzotti.

Bertagnolli's detailed confession to Roberti was published in the USADA report to reveal Ferrari's system.

Also, riders and teams took advantage of their image rights contracts to limit taxes, the Gazzetta reported, with Scimone helping them work with a company called T&F Sport Management in Monte Carlo to register the deals there and avoid tax.

The contracts were not registered with the UCI and the riders paid only 6 percent tax and then transferred the cash to Switzerland to use it in part for paying Ferrari, the Gazzetta said.

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