I was struck by something seeing today’s New York Times story about how, if new allegations about Lance Armstrong being a doper while he was racing for sponsor U.S. Postal Service pan out, he’s got more than a cycling license to worry about — there are serious fraud repercussions that could rock the sport.
And then it hit me.
I read this story five years ago.
It was written by Matt Smith, columnist at our sister paper, SF Weekly, who in 2005 was pointing out that by riding for a team sponsored by an entity of the U.S. government (the Postal Service), Armstrong put himself into a special kind of jeopardy. Wrote Smith:
The Postal Service is considered a government agency under an 1863 federal law called the False Claims Act designed to root out fraud against the government. That means that any insider who believes he has evidence that would hold up in court showing Armstrong used drugs while his team management knew yet quietly looked the other way could potentially reap a bonanza under legal provisions that give whistle-blowers a share of any lawsuit’s proceeds.
“Like most cycling fans I would be reluctant to believe Lance Armstrong, or any other member of the U.S. Postal Service Team, used performance-enhancing drugs. But if that were indeed the case, and the company was aware of that at the time, the company may very well have exposure for treble damages under the False Claims Act,” says Paul Scott, a former U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney in San Francisco specializing in cases involving the act.
Smith also wrote extensively about Armstrong’s peculiar legal battle with S.C.A. Promotions, a company that he took to court when it refused to pay him a $5 million bonus in 2004 after allegations arose that Armstrong was doping. Armstrong sued S.C.A., and later settled for $7.5 million.
The Times is now reporting that (unnamed) government investigators are now taking another look at the S.C.A. case, as well as the legal ramifications that blood doping could be construed as defrauding the U.S. government.
Well, it’s nice to see the Times catch up to Matt Smith, at last.