Tens of millions of dollars at stake in fraud case
The government of the United States is reportedly intending to join a whistleblower lawsuit against Lance Armstrong and others who ran the US Postal Service-sponsored cycling team.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that the US Department of Justice is set to file papers today joining the 'qui tam' suit, reportedly initiated by Floyd Landis. The suit alleges that the team defrauded the government by engaging in doping while under sponsorship of the Postal Service, actions which were contrary to the terms of the sponsorship agreement.
Qui tam suits are kept under seal, but the details of the suit were leaked to the NY Daily News last month. Named in the suit are Armstrong, manager Johan Bruyneel, financier Thomas Weisel, Armstrong’s agent Bill Stapleton and former Tailwind Sports president Barton Knaggs.
Under the federal False Claims Act, citizens are able to file suit against those who defraud the government, and for their trouble can be awarded up to one-third of any money reclaimed by the government. Defendants can be fined up to three times the amount - which in the case of the US Postal Service sponsorship agreement was over $30 million.
The suit was filed in 2010, but was bolstered by Armstrong's recent confession to having doped during all seven of his Tour de France victories. The US Postal Service sponsored the team during his first six Tour wins - 1999-2004. The US Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of all seven titles and banned him for life after compiling thousands of pages of evidence against him.
Armstrong's attorneys argued that the marketing benefit received from the team by the US Postal Service far out-stripped the amount given in sponsorship dollars, but according to the Wall Street Journal, that argument would only serve to mitigate the overall award, not decide the outcome of the case.