Going Postal on the Department of Justice?
March 12, 2013
It was announced last week that the Department of Justice has joined a whistleblower lawsuit against Lance Armstrong and other Team USA cyclists (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/23/sports/cycling/justice-department-will… ). Armstrong and his teammates were previously sponsored by the United States Postal Service. Pursuant to the parties’ multi-million dollar sponsorship contract was an express provision whereby the cyclists agreed not to use performance enhancing drugs. In the wake of Armstrong’s recent public admission to doping, it appears the Department of Justice seized an opportunity to join an ostensibly cherry-picked lawsuit. Still, the DOJ will need to show just how the USPS was damaged by Armstrong and the other named defendants who doped if it hopes to recoup on its earlier investment (that is, of course, assuming the case does not settle first).
Meanwhile, there has still yet to be a single prosecution against Wall Street Executives in the wake of the financial collapse. A recent Frontline exclusive (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/untouchables/) examines this anomaly and poignantly details the idleness of the DOJ with respect to getting tough on Wall Street fraudsters. In our Business Associations course we study the Sarbones-Oxley Act, presumably because it is a relevant tool in prosecuting corporate scandals at the highest levels. However, when the DOJ cannot or simply chooses that it will not bring charges in response to what so clearly amounts to criminal conduct, unfortunately Sarbones-Oxley is likely to become moot.
While the distinction between joining an already filed lawsuit and issuing a formal criminal indictment is clear enough, the DOJ’s lax approach on Wall Street’s shady dealings furthers the regrettable notion that justice is only found where it is convenient. Lance Armstrong cheated, but so did a large number of banks. While Armstrong is already considered a lying, cheating bully in the court of public opinion, it should be the DOJ’s priority to put the bankers in actual court before they go after Armstrong and his bike.
Within twenty-four hours of Frontline’s damning report airing, the head of DOJ’s Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, resigned (http://www.cjr.org/the_audit/frontline_hits_hard_on_the_lac.php?page=1 ). Credible journalism might not be dead after all. Unfortunately, the poetic justice here is less satisfactory when it takes Frontline and other investigative journalists to wage the DOJ’s own battles. The financial collapse was not just the result of swindling Wall Street bankers and to suggest as much would be myopic. Still, that is where the most egregious fraud took place and that is where accountability has been altogether non-existent.