This time a week ago, Lance Armstrong was probably worried about the impact of the Justice Department joining Floyd Landis’ whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong and others who owned/ran the US Postal Service/Discovery Channel cycling teams. A week later, the politicians in Washington, DC have shown just how dysfunctional and incapable of governing this country they truly are, and Armstrong must be sitting in his house in Austin or Aspen or Hawaii or wherever the hell he’s living at the moment thinking, “I wonder if those automatic budget cuts will mean the Feds won’t be so dogged in pursuing me as Travis Tygart was.”
How’s that for a run-on rambling sentence? This kid’s got some serious talent for droning on, eh?
Here’s the thing, though. Armstrong ain’t likely to catch such a lucky break. Chances are, the folks at the Department of Justice thought about that before signing on to the lawsuit. So, even though budget cuts will cut a pretty wide swath, whoever made the decision to intervene probably anticipated reduced funds and decided to do this anyway. Which is bad news for Armstrong. In the last week, I read somewhere that the government has a track record of winning or settling 80 percent of these types of cases when they get involved. So right now, it’s an odds-on bet that some amount of money — yet to be determined — will be flowing from Lance Armstrong’s bank account towards the US Treasury.
Curiously, the government didn’t intervene regarding every defendant listed in Landis’ lawsuit. They are currently pursuing Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Tailwind Sports LLC and Tailwind Sports Corporation. Conspicuously absent in the list is Thomas Weisel, the financier who backed the team even before Armstrong’s string of (now-nullified) Tour de France wins. VeloNews’ Neal Rogers penned an analysis of why the Feds didn’t go after Weisel a few days ago. In his article, he offers the following quote from a Baltimore lawyer:
“The government’s action would be interpreted several ways,” wrote Mark Stichel, a Baltimore-based attorney who has litigated civil cases in state and federal courts throughout the U.S., in an e-mail to VeloNews.
“One interpretation is that the government believes that Armstrong and Bruyneel were the primary architects of the fraud on the government,” Stichel wrote. “Another interpretation is that the government may have reached or is near reaching settlements with the other defendants and that Armstrong and Bruyneel were balking at settlement so it intervened against them only to prod them into settlement.”
Rogers goes on to point out that the government could change their minds and go after Weisel. But they have only about 60 days from when they joined the Landis lawsuit to do so (counting the days, that would be until about April 20th, if I did the math right).
One possible reason they didn’t decide to go after Weisel and Bill Stapleton and Bart Knaggs, as Rogers mentions, is that the Feds may be close to reaching settlements with each of these individuals. And they may have joined the Landis case against Armstrong in order to get a bigger settlement out of the former seven-times Tour champ. Rumor had it that Armstrong and his lawyers were trying to settle for $5 million, which given the potential damage award in the case (up to $90 million) seems like a pretty paltry sum.
But if the government doesn’t get settlements out of Weisel, Stapleton and Knaggs, does that mean Armstrong and Bruyneel would be on the hook for the total damages — assuming the case goes to trial and damages are awarded? Probably not. Tailwind Sports LLC and Tailwind Sports Corporation are also listed as defendants, so it stands to reason they might bear some of the financial brunt of any damages awarded. But if these organizations have no assets and are no longer doing business, just how much could Uncle Sam squeeze out of them? Not much would be my guess.
Weisel, Stapleton and Knaggs must surely have known the score about the team’s doping program. And I don’t think it stretches credulity to say that they benefited. But how strong a case can the Justice Department bring against those characters? That’s hard to say.
And that brings up another possibility for why the Feds chose (for now) not to go after Weisel and the others. Maybe they don’t think the evidence is strong enough to win. Given that the government will now be cutting back as a result of the sequester, perhaps the decision not to take on Weisel and the others boiled down to ensuring the most effective use of department funds.
Somewhere down the road, the case will be over, and financial penalties will likely be applied. Lance Armstrong is probably going to be writing a check for much more than the $5 million he offered to settle the case. How much more? No idea. Substantially more, I’d guess.
With the odds heavily favoring damages or a settlement, one person is likely to walk away from this case richer than he was before. Floyd Landis. Given the likelihood that the Feds will prevail, Landis looks set to receive somewhere between 15 and 25 percent of whatever the government gets. Landis may well wind up laughing all the way to the bank. Which will be good news to those who are looking for refunds of their donations to the Floyd Fairness Fund.
There’s a certain amount of irony in the fact that Armstrong’s ill-gotten gains may wind up paying off Floyd’s supporters. Poetic justice, even.