For Armstrong, confession is no guarantee

Comment: Not even a confession may help Armstrong now, according to legal analysts and rules governing doping penalties.

Lance Armstrong 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Lance Armstrong 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Lance Armstrong has made few public comments in the three months since a massive file of doping evidence came out against him.
After years of vehement denials about doping, such prolonged silence practically qualifies as pleading the Fifth Amendment – declining to respond when almost nothing you can say will help your own cause, except maybe a full confession.
Not even a confession may help Armstrong much now, unless it’s largely to relieve his conscience, according to legal analysts and the rules governing doping penalties.
For Armstrong, a confession would likely be a business decision – he’s ineligible for life to compete in sanctioned events, and his sponsors have dropped him since the case went public in October. A cyclist who once dominated the Tour de France has been relegated to triathlons on the back roads of sports.
On Twitter, Armstrong says he’s been working out in Hawaii. On January 17, Oprah Winfrey will air what her publicist called a 90-minute “no-holds-barred interview” with him on the doping scandal and his years of denials. But the bottom line for what a potential admission of guilt would accomplish still looks bleak.
Consider: A confession would not resurrect his athletic career any time soon, perhaps no sooner than 2021, when he turns 50.
Armstrong only can return to competition if he provides substantial assistance to doping officials, helping them nail other cheaters and clean up the sport. If he does that – no small requirement – his ban could be reduced to “no less than eight years,” according to the World Anti-Doping Agency code.
Any further reduction probably would have to come outside the scope of the rulebook and likely would require the agreement of several world governing bodies.
Even a reduction to eight years “shall only be applied in very exceptional cases,” the WADA code states.
It would require Armstrong to provide new information and implicate cheaters – the kind of testimony he detested when others provided such information about him.
“You can’t say, ‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. But now you’ve got me, so I’ll come in and admit it and get a break,’” USADA attorney Richard Young told USA TODAY Sports in October.
“That doesn’t work. Theoretically, if he came forward and said, ‘I have a completely different level of information,’ we could think about it.”
US Anti-Doping Agency officials have declined comment on whether Armstrong’s team has broached the subject. Armstrong’s attorney, Tim Herman, said there are “no ongoing discussions with USADA” or WADA.
WADA Director David Howman says there has been no contact with Armstrong’s camp on this subject. Armstrong could request a rehearing based on new evidence, but Howman says he would first need to see a sworn statement from Armstrong detailing his information.
If he confesses, Armstrong also might be pulling the pins out of several legal grenades.
Acknowledging he defrauded his sponsors, including the US Postal Service, might prompt some to seek repayment.
With a confession, “Armstrong runs a serious risk of opening himself up to fraud claims by companies that sponsored him and others,” said Brian Socolow, a New York-based attorney who has litigated several business disputes. An “admission of drug use would remove many of the obstacles that would ordinarily hamper a fraud claim against him.”
Likewise, other legal cases against him could gain fuel, with the federal government being one potential opponent. Last year, the government dropped, without explanation, a criminal fraud investigation involving Armstrong.
Whether a confession would resurrect that case is unclear.
The government also is considering whether to join a whistleblower civil case against Armstrong filed by former teammate Floyd Landis. At issue in that case is whether Armstrong and others defrauded the Postal Service of about $30 million.
Armstrong asserted his Fifth Amendment rights when served with a subpoena by Postal Service Inspector General. He since has met the subpoena’s obligations, according to court records.
Dallas-based SCA Promotions wants $12.5 million from him in a case that dates to 2004, when Armstrong successfully sued the company for refusing to pay a $5 million bonus for winning the 2004 Tour.
Armstrong denied doping in a 2005 deposition.
He denied it in testimony before an arbitration panel. Now that he has been stripped of his seven Tour titles, SCA wants its money back for the 2002, 2003 and 2004 wins, plus legal costs.
The good news for Armstrong is that even though he testified that he never used performance-enhancing drugs, a confession would not likely trigger perjury charges because the testimony is beyond the statute of limitations, an SCA attorney said.
A British newspaper is suing Armstrong for $1.5 million. The Sunday Times paid him about $485,000 in 2006 to settle a libel case he filed against it, claiming he was damaged by the paper because it reprinted parts of a book that said he used performance-enhancing drugs.
The suits amount to a total liability of at least $14 million, plus $4 million in prize money the International Cycling Union wants returned.
“It’s a big risk for Armstrong to admit guilt,” Socolow says.
He’s also the only person that could really benefit from it. USADA prevailed against Armstrong and saw its authority upheld in the courts.
The cyclist’s cancer-fighting charity, Livestrong, enjoys high marks from charity watchdogs and saw a surge of donations on its 15th anniversary in October.
So it all boils down to a personal decision: Will the potential legal and financial pain be worth it? The truth is, at this point, most people are past caring.