Fair Weather Friends

From the BBC:

Lance Armstrong has agreed to pay $5m (£3.5m) to the US government to settle a long-running lawsuit that could have cost him $100m (£71m) in damages.

The American, 46, was accused of fraud by cheating while riding for the publicly funded US Postal Service team.

I was aware that Lance Armstrong was facing a colossal lawsuit from the federal government, but didn’t know the details. I always assumed it was because sports doping is seen as a criminal matter in the US, which it generally isn’t elsewhere. Then I listened to the Joe Rogan podcast with Armstrong and found out it was for different reasons. As the BBC says:

The US Postal Service team ran from 1996 to 2004, with Armstrong winning seven Tour titles between 1999 and 2005.

So the reason the federal government is suing Armstrong is because the US Postal Service sponsored his team when he was doping. Now sure, there’s a case to answer but because it’s the federal government, well:

The team were paid about $32m (£23m) between 2000 and 2004, with the government potentially able to pursue ‘treble’ damages under the lawsuit, resulting in the $100m figure.

I suspect the reason why the case has been settled at “only” $5m is because, as Armstrong’s legal team always claimed, this is about damages and (according to the podcast) no less than 3 studies were carried out demonstrating that the US Postal Service benefited enormously from the publicity surrounding Armstrong’s victories (which was the whole point). I doubt the US Postal Service suffered any noticeable monetary or reputational loss when, 8 years after his last win and 9 since they stopped sponsoring Tour de France teams, it transpired their talisman was doping. I strongly suspect the $5m is symbolic, a chance for a few individuals in the federal government to advance up the career ladder and show the public they disapprove of cheating. Armstrong made the point that the reason cycling has been hit so hard is because the sport has no lobbyists in Washington DC working on their behalf, unlike banks for example.

The lesson here is never, ever do business with the government in any form unless you have protection in place, like a Russian krysha. If things go sour, and someone is looking to make a name for himself*, you could find the full force of the state bearing down on you, making up the rules as they go along.

*Ask Martha Stewart about that.

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27 thoughts on “Fair Weather Friends

  1. Indeed, Martha Stewart famously being done not for cooking the books but for porkie pies

  2. Indeed, Martha Stewart famously being done not for cooking the books but for porkie pies

    Yeah, and it it appears that the FBI can lie their little heads off when interviewing you, but if you make the slightest error on a single detail – misremembering a date, for example – you get charged with “lying to the FBI”. A few US lawyers don’t even think this should be a crime, especially if the FBI is permitted to lie to you in order to trip you up.

    The FBI’s modus operandi, from what I can tell, is to launch an investigation and trick the suspect into making a small error or inconsistency about something unrelated, then slap on charges of “lying to the FBI” either to cop a plea and advance their careers or to roll up people higher up in the organisation. Apparently this is justice.

  3. It is a toxic mix. An overly broad range of basis for charging. Absurd sentences. Plea deals including testifying against others. That testimony being treated as admissible even though it has clearly been “purchased”

    The best legal advice would seem to be figure out what the prosectors want and make sure you cut an early deal. Then go take a shower to get rid of feeling dirty.

    Euch.

  4. The best legal advice would seem to be figure out what the prosectors want and make sure you cut an early deal.

    Or, as one Twitter lawyer said in the wake of Flynn’s charging for the same “crime”:

    Never, ever speak to the Feds, or preferably any law enforcement, without a lawyer. You will never talk your way out of any trouble you are in, but you could easily talk your way into trouble you are not in.

    The American justice system is rotten from top to bottom.

  5. Strictly speaking, the Postal Service no longer is a branch of the Federal government.
    The standard advice about talking to the Feds is don’t. All you say is “I want to see my lawyer.”

  6. Important correction accepted.

    “..make sure you cut an early deal” you=your lawyer

  7. Strictly speaking, the Postal Service no longer is a branch of the Federal government.

    I doubt that bothered them one whit.

  8. As the saying goes, “what the government giveth, the government can taketh away”…

  9. As the saying goes, “what the government giveth, the government can taketh away”…

    It needs updating to “what the government giveth, the government can take away three times over with ‘treble’ damages”

  10. Strange, i would have thought the lesson was don’t take part in a systematic, long running doping campaign from which you benefit financially from and lie to everyone about it, to the point you will sue them to cover it up.

  11. Strange, i would have thought the lesson was don’t take part in a systematic, long running doping campaign from which you benefit financially from and lie to everyone about it, to the point you will sue them to cover it up.

    Yeah, sure. Like I said, there’s a case to answer. But the entire sport was doing it, and he faced lawsuits from every angle. Only one of them demanded treble damages and had unlimited resources to throw at it.

  12. Why does the US postal service need to advertise?

    It was losing ground to private couriers in the 1990s, apparently.

  13. “Strictly speaking, the Postal Service no longer is a branch of the Federal government”

    In UK terms it is somewhat like a Quango, but not really. It has a legal monopoly on letter delivery to any post box marked US MAIL, and it is independent agency that the US government is constitutionally required to have.

  14. It needs updating to “what the government giveth, the government can take away three times over with ‘treble’ damages”

    Or perhaps “if the government purchaseth from thee, and getteth their money’s worth and then some, they still might come after thee twenty years later over some bullshit”

    The FBI’s modus operandi… [is to] slap on charges of “lying to the FBI” either to cop a plea and advance their careers or to roll up people higher up in the organisation.

    Also, if they can tie your activity to the use of the postal service or the internet or a phone, then that’s “mail/wire fraud” and a max. 20 years in the chokey. So if you send them a letter that contains what they determine to be a false statement, presumably you’re in double trouble.

  15. Also, if they can tie your activity to the use of the postal service or the internet or a phone, then that’s “mail/wire fraud” and max. 20 years in the chokey.

    Oh yes. And if you send 3 emails on the same subject, that counts as 3 *separate* wire-fraud crimes, so you’re facing 60 years inside. In other words, if you’re a young middle aged man you can expect to die in jail. Little wonder so many cop a plea or agree to testify against those above them.

  16. I find that regardless which jurisdiction you find yourself in, “Taking the Fifth” is in most cases the most effective defensive position one can take with the law, if it is criminally enquiring of you.

  17. https://youtube.com/watch?v=d-7o9xYp7eE

    A must watch, I’d have thought, at least for Yanks. Though an ex British police sergeant I know told me something similar this week – he felt a bit sorry for the generally law abiding citizens who talked to the police because they were trying to “be helpful” and ended up explaining themselves into trouble while all the career criminals would be correctly advised to “no comment”. As he said, where’s the incentive for them to speak? Asking them to speak is basically asking them to accept a prison sentence so why shouldn’t they just sit tight and see how strong the evidence is?

  18. A must watch, I’d have thought, at least for Yanks.

    That’s brilliant.

    Of course, in the UK we don’t have the fifth and our version of Miranda rights state something like “Your defence may be harmed if you fail to mention something you later rely on in court”.

  19. As a lawyer friend once stressed to me, the caution given to you by the cops in UK is anything you say can be used against you in court. They tell you they are not on your side from the start.

  20. @Tim N

    Yep I wouldn’t tell a Brit to treat it as legal advice… but as practical advice it’s interesting. I know it the law prof who went viral and got a book deal out of it but it is actually the detective who speaks afterwards and basically confirms it all, and gives away some tricks of his own, that I found most compelling. If you ended up on the wrong side of him, and you’d been stupid enough to open your mouth, you’d be right royally screwed. And though some of the tactical legalities might differ a bit in the UK, I doubt there is a significant difference in mindset.

  21. >our version of Miranda rights state something like “Your defence may be harmed if you fail to mention something you later rely on in court”.

    Thus the popularity in the UK law courts of :
    ‘I don’t remember.’
    ‘I don’t recall.’
    ‘I’m gravely ill, and have a doctor’s note.’

  22. Sure did!

    Think I might owe David a hat-tip for it anyway. Anyone who hasn’t watched it really ought to.

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