The criminalization of Lance Armstrong

Larry Ribstein —  27 July 2010

Today’s WSJ says that federal prosecutors are going after Lance Armstrong in connection with his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs based on documents from a private arbitration case.

The article notes that “Mr. Armstrong has repeatedly denied doping allegations and has not been charged with any wrongdoing” and that “[u]sing performing-enhancing techniques in sports is generally not against the law in the U.S.”

So what exactly is the problem?

Well, “federal prosecutors could make the case that Mr. Armstrong defrauded investors by accepting sponsorship dollars with the understanding that he would not use the drugs, if they prove that he doped.”

Securities fraud? Wire fraud? Now that honest services is a harder case to make I guess you have to work with what you can get.

Also, “[t]he materials [from the arbitration] may allow the government to seek perjury charges against Mr. Armstrong, who gave sworn testimony in the case in which he denied ever using illegal and banned performance-enhancing drugs or methods.” But the arbitration was evidently a private dispute in which Armstrong sought bonus money he says he was owed. It’s not clear how that supports federal perjury charges.

Armstrong’s lawyer says “It’s hard for us to understand what kind of case they could be trying to build against Lance Armstrong or any cyclist. It’s hard to imagine the federal criminal law is going to extend to compliance with internal bike racing rules and whether infractions occurred.”

Meet the new world of federal criminal prosecutions, in which notoriety can make you a defendant. I don’t pretend to know whether Lance Armstrong doped. But is this really a federal criminal matter?

On a related subject, Tom Kirkendall has more on the personal toll of the Enron prosecutions.

Larry Ribstein

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Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

One response to The criminalization of Lance Armstrong

  1. 
    Walter Sobchak 27 July 2010 at 10:59 am

    I don’t understand who these prosecutors think is going to be on their side in this one. They are protecting the integrity of the Tour de France? Who cares what anyone does in France? Barry Bonds was messing with the national pastime. But riding bicycles. Give me a break.