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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lance Armstrong Hires Famous S.F. Attorney, New USPS Sponsorship Details Emerge

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2011 at 12:35 PM

It's all about who owned what and when.
  • It's all about who owned what and when.

​Lance Armstrong has added two more San Francisco attorneys to his defense team to help ward off possible charges that he was doping while cycling the Tour de France. 

Additionally, SF Weekly has more details on the 1996-2004 U.S. Postal Service cycling team sponsorship deal possibly key to an ongoing federal investigation.

John Keker, the San Francisco attorney who prosecuted Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair, repeated Armstrong's claims that he shouldn't be investigated or prosecuted because he is an anticancer hero, according to KTVU.  Armstrong's lawyers also say that the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team misdeeds are too old to matter. Armstrong himself strongly denies ever doping.

"That the government is spending tax money investigating long ago bike races in Europe is an outrage." said Keker, who is also working with San Francisco attorney Elliot Peters on Armstrong's case. Keker also complained about purported grand jury leaks which implicated Armstrong's team was involved with systematic doping. 

A Los Angeles federal grand jury has been empaneled for months to hear evidence of allegations that Armstrong and his teammates doped -- and tidbits of that information have come from unnamed, seemingly knowledgeable sources.

However, despite detailed investigations revealed on 60 Minutes this week, as well as other media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated, it's still unclear whether Armstrong will face criminal or civil charges, and if so what kind of charges they would be.

In 2005, SF Weekly described how the U.S. Postal Service Team management could face legal peril if they allowed riders to dope. More recently, multiple news stories have cited unnamed sources saying federal officials are targeting team officials -- not riders. What could be central to any prosecution is contracts between the USPS, which is a government agency, and team officials, who agreed that millions of dollars in government sponsorship could be stopped if somehow management new about and covered up doping.

A secret violation of that agreement could constitute as fraud.

On Tuesday, we told readers about the 60 Minutes piece aired Sunday. Elements of the broadcast seemed to point toward Tailwind Sports -- a cycling team management company launched in San Francisco during the 1990's by local financier Thomas Weisel. Could Weisel, a legend in the local tech financing business, get wrapped up in this?

Since then, we've found more documents that seem to suggest Weisel's involvement with the company running the team waned over the years, making for a blurry picture of who really owned and operated the team. It turns out that establishing the seemingly simple matter of identifying "team management" is more complicated that you might think.

In 2000, records obtained by ESPN show team management was barred from permitting doping as far back as 2000. In that document, "team management" was identified as S.F. financier Thomas Weisel, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Gorski, and Dan Osipow, who  has recently held a job helping manage U.C. Berkeley's sports properties. To make matters even more complicated, various press accounts during the past year have made conflicting statements about whether Armstrong himself had owned the team at some point.

Armstrong issued a vague statement last July, saying he was only a minority owner of Tailwind Sports, and primarily served as a rider-employee. After that, stories appeared indicating he had a given different version of that statement under oath.

In 2005, the USPS Team added an additional sponsor for its European campaign -- Belgian flooring company Berry Floor. However, the company didn't make agreed-upon payments, Tailwind attorneys alleged in a 2006 complaint.

I'll spare you the details of who said what about Berry Floor's purported reneging. What's relevant in 2011 are answers to the question: With whom, precisely, did Berry Floor cut its sponsorship deal? The answer could also provide clues to who, theoretically, might have been in a position to defraud the U.S. Postal Service.

A copy of the 2005 Berry-Floor/Tailwind sponsorship agreement links Tailwind Sports to Capital Sports and Entertainment, the same company that ran Armstrong's business and charitable enterprises. According to the contract:

"All notices and payment under this Agreement are effective upon receipt if hand delivered or sent by overnight courier or by certified mail, return receipt requested to the following address:

Tailwind Sports Corp.

c/o Capital Sports & Entertainment, Inc.

98 San Jacinto

Suite 430

Austin, Texas 78701

Attn: Bill Stapleton or Bart Knaggs." 

In Fact, Knaggs and Stapleton have long handled Armstrong's myriad business and nonprofit activities under the banner of Capital Sports and Entertainment. According to that company's Web site:

Lance met with CSE founders Bill Stapleton and Bart Knaggs and formed a small foundation to fight the disease.

Armstrong himself was also a signatory to the Berry Floor sponsorship agreement, which included sections describing how the Belgian company could use the Texan cyclist's name and image.

Judging from documents filed in the 2005 lawsuit, Armstrong had business, personal, and legal connections to the people and businesses running the U.S. Postal Service Cycling Team. Will these connections surface again as part of the current federal doping investigation?

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