I’m glad Lance Armstrong confessed to doping, because I’m a human being first and a lawyer second. Confessions are legally wrong but morally right. Armstrong’s only hope of becoming a decent human being again after his years of cheating, lying, and bullying, is to honestly own up to those he’s harmed, to make reparations, and begin to live a life of integrity.
His lawyers, though, have surely been yanking their hair out at the sordid mess he’s created. Or they’re buying vacation villas with the projected billings for the coming years of massive legal work for this one client.
What are the legal ramifications of Armstrong’s confession?
Looks like Armstrong flat out lied when he said under oath in a 2005 deposition that he’d never doped. What a coincidence! The statute of limitations ran out on the perjury charge before Armstrong’s confession.
What about criminal charges for the doping itself? Just last year, 2012, a two year federal criminal investigation into fraud, money laundering, and drug trafficking charges against Armstrong mysteriously closed without any charges filed. Given the US Anti Doping Agency’s blistering 2012 report, based on dozens of witnesses, including many from Armstrong’s own team, it’s hard to come up with a legitimate reason why. Now, that error can be remedied. It could be reopened. It should be reopened. Unless someone is pulling strings to let a well-connected celebrity off the hook, what reason would there be for letting this admitted criminal off? If dozens of witnesses and a videotaped confession is not enough evidence, what would be?
An avalanche of civil cases should be raining down on Armstrong, and soon. As you read these words, teams of lawyers are surely negotiating furiously to settle these claims.
Floyd Landis’ whistleblower case: Taking advantage of a system in place that encourages Americans to alert the federal government of fraudulent spending, Floyd Landis sued in 2010, claiming that Armstrong defrauded the US Postal Service, a team sponsor, of $32 million. The lawsuit claims that Armstrong’s contract specifically prohibits doping. The federal government can intervene in whistleblower cases like this if it finds they are meritorious. Since Armstrong’s Oprah confession yesterday, there are reports that may happen.
This is the monster case against Armstrong that could wipe him out financially. Armstrong is reportedly worth about $100 million. Treble (triple) damages are available in federal whistleblower actions, so Armstrong could be hit with a $96 million judgment – and the whistleblower, Landis, who Armstrong and his reps have attacked as a liar, could net 25% of the judgment for his trouble. Sounds like justice to me.
According to the New York Times, Armstrong has already offered $5 million to settle this case. What a joke.
Return of money he’s made from lawsuits and settlements
Armstrong sued the UK paper The Sunday Times and won $500,000 after it accused him of doping in 2005 – a lawsuit that was based entirely on Armstrong’s now acknowledged lies. It has already filed suit for the return of that money.
In fact, in his interview with Oprah, Armstrong couldn’t keep up with all the lawsuits he’d filed – lawsuits which we now know were fraudulent. He sued SCA Promotions, a Dallas company, to force them to pay Armstrong $7.5 million as a bonus for winning the 2004 Tour de France. It initially balked at the payment on the grounds that Armstrong was rumored to use performance enhancing drugs at the time. Armstrong sued and won, including attorneys’ fees, in an arbitration. SCA’s attorneys now say they are looking closely at the option of suing for return of the money (probably plus more attorneys’ fees, and substantial interest).
Return of sponsorships
Sponsorship contracts always have morals clauses, which prohibit celebrities from illegal behavior that would bring disrepute on the brand they’re representing. Armstrong has said that his endorsement deals specifically banned illegal doping. Sponsors like Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Trek, Easton-Bell Sports, 24-Hour Fitness, Honey Stinger, and Oakley could sue for return of the millions they’ve paid Armstrong over the years. With interest, and attorneys’ fees, probably.
Armstrong admitted to Oprah that he’s been a bully, and what that means is he’s viciously publicly excoriated everyone who told the truth about his doping over the years. Those individuals could sue him for defamation, and seek punitive damages for his willful, intentional lies about them.
I began by saying that confessions were legally wrong but morally right. But Armstrong has a moral choice to make in how he conducts his legal affairs now that he has confessed. If he continues to fight those he’s wronged, by having his lawyers exploit every legal loophole and fight every motion, he’s not really contrite. Actions speak louder than words, especially for a man who, according to the USADA, was the mastermind of the biggest, most sophisticated doping operation in the history of sports. If he’s truly sorry, Armstrong needs to accept the legal consequences for his many illegal acts, and compensate his victims fully and promptly.
The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of Avvo.com.