Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Sports Illustrated Column on Implications of Floyd Landis' Allegations against Lance Armstrong

I have a new column on on the potential legal impact of allegations by Floyd Landis that Lance Armstrong engaged in doping and possibly encouraged and facilitated other riders to dope. Here's an excerpt:

Why would law enforcement authorities listen to someone of questionable character like Landis?

For one, Landis would be breaking the law by knowingly lying to federal government officials.

Second, sometimes persons with checkered pasts and suspicious motivations are telling the truth and sometimes they are the only persons willing to tell the truth. Just recall when Jose Canseco was widely ridiculed for claims in his book, Juiced Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, that Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and other players used steroids. While Canseco's colorful past and financial motivations for book sales gave legitimate reason to question the accusations, he appears to have been telling the truth. Perhaps if he had been taken more seriously earlier in time, the steroid scandal could have been addressed more effectively.

In addition, it is the job of law enforcement and other investigatory officials, including special agent Jeff Novitzky, to assess the credibility of Landis and how well his claims would withstand courtroom scrutiny. Clearly, if Landis is the central accuser of Armstrong, Armstrong could attack Landis on multiple grounds. But should the government conclude that Armstrong broke the law, it will try to find additional sources of evidence and testimony that support Landis's claims but lack his vulnerabilities.

* * *

What is the legal significance of USPS sponsoring Armstrong's team?

In all likelihood, the sponsorship by USPS, an independent agency within the Executive Branch of the federal government, will not impact the legal duties of Armstrong or the team. Sponsorship of a racing team probably does not convert the team into an entity that acts on behalf of the government, nor is it likely to turn decision-makers of the team into government agents. Therefore, even though Armstrong was a part-owner and principal decision-maker for Tailwind Sports, which managed the USPS team and received the sponsorship money, his main legal concerns probably center on accusations of illegal distribution.

It is worth noting, however, the possibility that Armstrong's treatment of USPS sponsorship money could bring legal scrutiny, particularly under the federal statute for the misuse of public funds and embezzlement, 18 U.S.C. §§ 648. The statute prohibits custodians of public funds from misusing those funds and carries up to a 10-year prison sentence. The fact that USPS does not draw from taxpayer funds may not help Armstrong, since the statute does not distinguish taxpayer public funds from non-taxpayer public funds.

Still, whether Armstrong's individual control of the funds would be sufficient to trigger scrutiny, and whether promotional public funds fall within the purview of the statute are complicating factors. At this stage, therefore, it seems unlikely that the USPS sponsorship will impact the legal analysis.

To read the rest, click here. For an excellent commentary by Alan Milstein on Landis' allegations, see On Floyd Landis: What Makes Sports and Sports Law Interesting.