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This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Lance Armstrong is thought to have a net worth of more than $125 million. But there is a possibility that after appearing on Oprah Winfrey‘s cable network Jan. 17 and 18 to tell the truth about his doping, the disgraced cycling champion could file for bankruptcy within a matter of months.
That sad fate might be the price of coming clean, say legal experts. Armstrong, 41, could seek protection from a tidal wave of potential lawsuits from those he has harassed in the past. Armstrong sued Rupert Murdoch‘s The Times of London for libel and a Texas insurance firm for refusing to pay him Tour de France bonus money. Both cases were resolved, but the Times has said it is suing Armstrong to regain the settlement money it paid him.
Sponsors, most of which have dropped Armstrong, also could sue him for breaching the morals clauses in his contracts. Cycling-event organizers could sue for fraud in the collection of prize money, and the U.S. Justice Department could join a suit filed by cycling whistleblower Floyd Landis to recover sponsorship money.
In addition, those with whom Armstrong publicly has sparred over doping allegations — like cyclist Tyler Hamilton, whom Armstrong called a “proven liar,” and former champion Greg LeMond, who Armstrong said was “not in check with reality” — could sue for defamation. (The report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency listed others he has tried to intimidate and besmirch over the years.)
“I would have advised him to hunker down and shut up,” says defense attorney Bryan Sullivan of Early Sullivan. “This isn’t like the Tiger Woods sex scandal, where you come clean and rehabilitate your image. With so much money on the line from potential lawsuits, I don’t see the benefits of confessing now.”
Armstrong is being counseled by Mark Fabiani, who helped President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair. But unlike in that case, even a limited confession has consequences. Armstrong could eventually argue “quantum meruit,” that sponsors got his endorsement when his name had value, but on Thursday night, when the interview airs, the clock on the statute of limitations will undoubtedly be ticking for would-be plaintiffs. Wharton professor and Duane Morris special counsel Kenneth Shropshire compares the potential amount of claims to be filed to the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster. As lawsuits arrive, Armstrong might be tempted to pass off his money to charity or take advantage of homestead exemptions to creditor claims. Shropshire adds, “He better be prepared to file for bankruptcy when these claims come in.”
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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