Whatever punches Paul Kimmage has thrown at cycling — and he’s taken some swings — he’s been hit twice as hard, square in his broad jaw. This week, the Irishman finds himself at the center of a contentious fight over funds donated to back his legal defense in a defamation suit.
The week is par for the Kimmage course. After a story surfaced over his defense fund’s alleged mismanagement by Twitter personality Aaron Brown, the rider-turned-journalist told VeloNews that he took a walk with his wife and considered walking away from cycling.
“I was just was saying to her, ‘Look, I’ve just got to get out now. I feel that this is the end of the road. I don’t feel as if there is a career for me in cycling anymore.’ Not that there ever was,” Kimmage said.
“Since I was let go by the Sunday Times … I was trying to kind of figure out if there was a way for me to make a living from cycling. I thought there was, and now I don’t know anymore. Now, I’m just thinking to try and do something else now,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Fund money causes Twitter stir
Brown, known widely as @UCI_Overlord on Twitter, has enjoyed a mild level of social media fame in cycling circles. His patented “chuckles” at the end of many a snarky tweet are calling cards; among cycling’s Twitterati, he’s one of the most looked to and committed in his criticisms of a sport that is at its best solvent from an organizational standpoint and, at its worst, absolutely dysfunctional.
On Wednesday, the very medium that helped Brown’s rise served as a sounding board for those asking hard questions about his management of money donated to assist Kimmage’s legal defense against the sport’s world governing body, the UCI. Brown was in charge of the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund cash and, at this exact moment, is enduring withering criticism because that money, or some $70,000 of it, according to a former partner, seems either bound in regulatory purgatory or missing all together, depending to whom one speaks.
When asked by VeloNews, plainly, if he’s a crook and if he used the money for his own purposes, Brown said, soundly, “No.”
Kimmage and Brown now find themselves at the center of a very public crossroads over a fund that was established to help Kimmage ward off the UCI as its leaders filed suit against him for defamation. All told, the fund — spearheaded by bloggers Andy Shen of NYVelocity.com and Cyclismas.com’s Lesli Cohen — generated nearly $100,000 from 3,000 different donors.
It was a feel-good story at a time when those who’d questioned the cycling Omerta appeared to be enjoying a resurgence, as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published its Lance Armstrong, and the UCI later dropped its suit against Kimmage, who’d been kicking the wasp’s nest since the 1990 release of his book, Rough Ride, which detailed his time as a domestique and exposed drug use in cycling.
The glow has since faded, and what remains is an ironic tangle. The journalist for whom the fund was established was never able to access the money directly and isn’t sure where it’s gone, and the man who helped gain favor in the cycling community via Twitter and his calls for transparency at the UCI is now the whipping boy, accused of half-lit dealings. The journalist has become the story, and Brown has, at least for some, become that which he rails against.
“It’s not been a great day. It’s not been a great few days since I found out about this,” Kimmage said. “It’s uncomfortable to be the story. Yeah, it’s very uncomfortable to be the story, especially on days like today … Because I don’t mind standing up there and writing Rough Ride, and being held to account for that. Being held to account for anything I’ve ever stood up for. But I can’t — I’ve had no control over this.”
For four days, Kimmage said he’s been asking Brown — who said he took over management of the fund from Cohen after she voiced reluctance — for a detailed accounting of the fund, which Brown hasn’t provided. Instead, Brown, who recently relocated from Canada to Girona, Spain, offered up a screenshot of a PayPal account in his name, with the balance indicating a balance of $64,821.75, as of April 29, 2013, and indicating no new transactions in the last seven days.
Of course, a screenshot isn’t good enough for Kimmage in this case, and does little to ease his concerns. Brown, for his part, says the entire situation is a tax misunderstanding, and that when he took over management of the funds he also assumed tax liability, something he’s in the process of sorting out.
Further mucking up the waters is the fact that the donations were funneled into the general Cyclismas account, which was also used to handle profits from the sales of items such as t-shirts, and showed up as revenue, triggering a 1099 tax form from PayPal, submitted to the IRS. Cyclismas is a blog devoted to satire in pro cycling.
Since the account was based in the U.S., the group used Cohen’s social security number on the account, and she later received a tax form, at which point Cohen raised concerns and passed off the management of the funds to Brown, though it’s still not finalized, she said. Cohen has since filed to dissolve their Cyclismas partnership, and has seemingly broken up with Brown’s persona on Twitter.
“I feel poorly that things went the way they did,” Brown said Wednesday. “You’re trying to do the right thing. But you have no idea if this is going to be successful or not.”
Asked why the group didn’t seek non-profit status initially, Brown said they were “unprepared” and “reacting” to the situation as it came to them.
The story seems to add up, but for one thing: Cohen says Brown transferred the money from the PayPal account into his personal Canadian account, and she knows because she guessed the password to the PayPal account tied to her name and managed by Brown.
The account has paid out 21,000 Swiss Francs for legal bills Kimmage incurred, all parties have said, but the agreement seemingly ends there.
“I never got a look at the books,” Cohen said Wednesday. “In my opinion, and my attorney’s opinion, Aaron has acted in bad faith.” A letter from her attorney accuses Brown of failing to account for funds diverted from the business accounting, including monies attributed to the Kimmage fund. About $75,000 is unaccounted for, Cohen said.
“Right now I’m sitting here with a 1099 for the Kimmage fund, and I have to pay taxes on that,” Cohen said. “I need proof that he didn’t funnel the money off someplace else.”
On Dec. 27, for example, Cohen said Brown moved $9,741 from the account to another, a holdings company out of Nova Scotia. According to the Royal Gazette, the company, Siroque Holdings, Inc., was at one point in default of registration fees in the spring of 2012.
On March 4, Cohen said the Cyclismas account in which the Kimmage fund money initially resided was empty. Where it all went, she didn’t know, though Cohen said some Cyclismas contributors hadn’t been paid in some time, and that she believes Brown paid some bills from the account.
“I was horrified,” she said. “I started taking screen grabs of every page … All he had to do was provide an accounting to Paul and to me … and he refused. He flatly refused.”
For Cohen, the work to help Kimmage was one of the proudest moments of her life, but now she’s not so sure how things end, for her financially, or for the blog she runs.
Brown, meanwhile, has alternated between apology for the odd situation and defiance. “As it stands, the money does not belong to Paul,” he said, noting it was for legal defense and nothing else. “Is it fair that I transfer the funds to someone else and I might potentially be left with the tax liability because I was willing to do the right thing?”
He’s also cognizant of the fact that what goes around comes around — notably on social media.
“I have been critical of a great many people in cycling. And I have to say, I have to be open to accept criticism,” he said.
What’s next for Brown? “That’s a good question,” he said. “We’ll see what happens … I love the sport. I always have.”
For Kimmage, this is but the latest assault from a sport that’s probably taken more than it’s given him. He used to feel that way, at least, until the moment the fund popped up in late 2012.
“I’ve felt that way up until, ironically, the defense fund was set up. I felt that everything I’d ever done, or tried to do, for the sport, had bitten me, up until that moment. When people actually contributed to that fund, that was the payback for all of the pain. That was everything. That was deeper — what you’d done was worthwhile. What you tried to do was worthwhile. I certainly felt then that it had been worthwhile,” he said. “It’s just a horrible deception now. For all of the people who gave that money in good faith, I feel horribly deceived for them, and for myself.”
Asked what he’s say to those who gave money to his defense — money that’s now contested — his response was complex.
“Well I’m tempted to say I’m sorry. I’m really tempted to do that. And I am fuckin’ sorry. But I don’t feel I should have to say that, because I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “I wanted to thank them, sincerely, for what they’ve done. And we can get to the bottom of this. …”