US government set to join Armstrong whistle blower case

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong is expected to confess to years of doping on Oprah Winfrey tonight, but it will do nothing to stop the US government suing him for up to $95m. Despite attempts to settle, Armstrong appears to be on the hook in a federal whistle blower lawsuit Floyd Landis filed in 2010.

The New York Daily News today revealed extracts of the suit that paints a dirty picture of the 41-year-old Texan trying to win back public support. "There is a compelling argument for the feds to take on the disgraced cyclist," read today's article.

An extract of the 33-page lawsuit read, "Mr. Landis personally witnessed defendant Armstrong's use of prohibited substances and prohibited methods ... [and] has direct knowledge ... that Armstrong's prior victories on behalf of the USPS Team were accomplished while doping as well."

Landis filed the lawsuit on behalf of the US government in 2010 based on his knowledge that his and Armstrong's team cheated. A government agency, the US Postal Service, funded the team from 1996 to 2004. Landis raced on the team with Armstrong 2002 to 2004 and helped him take three of his seven Tour de France wins.

A whistle blower lawsuit, under the False Claims Act, allows citizens to sue on behalf of the government. If successful, penalties can range up to three-times the amount defrauded.

According to ESPN last year, US Postal Service gave $31.9m to the team from 2001 to 2004, which could see Armstrong and the team's management company, Tailwind on the hook for $95m [£59m]. Under the Act, Landis would be entitled to 15 to 30 per cent of the eventual pie.

Armstrong initially fought the government, arguing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was already investigating him. The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) took over after the FDA closed its case and in August, found Armstrong guilty for years of cheating.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Armstrong's lawyers have been in negotiations with the Justice Department trying to settle the lawsuit. According to its source, however, the two sides were unable to agree.

The Justice Department's deadline to decide is today and it reportedly is on the verge of joining the lawsuit.

As the New York Daily News reported, it has every reason to do so. The lawsuit shares most of the nasty details that the USADA's Reasoned Decision revealed on October 10. It also ties in USA Cycling in to the team's management company, questioning Steve Johnson and Jim Ochowicz investments. Importantly, in the government's eyes, it highlights how the team spent the sponsor's money on doping.

"The defendants submitted ... claims for payment to the USPS with knowledge that the USPS team was engaged in doping and other wrongful conduct in violation of the terms of the sponsorship contracts. ... Although defendants knew they had obtained payments to which they were not entitled, defendants failed to return the funds to the USPS."

In addition to Armstrong, the defendants are Tailwind Sports, Montgomery Sports, Capital Sports & Entertainment, Thomas Weisel, Johan Bruyneel, Bill Stapleton and Bart Knaggs.

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