Attorneys for Floyd Landis have invoked a wartime law in a bid to extend the statute of limitations of his qui tam suit against Lance Armstrong, which accuses him of defrauding the United States Postal Service, according to a report in USA Today (opens in new tab).
At a hearing in Washington on Monday, US District Judge Robert L. Wilkins will hear arguments from Landis’ attorneys to avail of the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, while Armstrong’s legal team has requested that the case be dropped altogether.
Landis initiated the whistleblower suit in 2010 under the False Claims Act, which allows citizens to sue on behalf of the U.S. government if they believe that it has been defrauded.
The suit was joined by the United States Justice Department earlier this year and is aimed at recouping the sponsorship funds provided by the US Postal Service to Armstrong’s squad between 1996 and 2004, when a systematic doping programme was in operation on the team. If successful, Landis could claim up to 25 percent of the damages claimed by the government.
USA Today reports that Landis’ lawyers will argue that the Wartime Suspension of Limitations act applies to the qui tam suit as the alleged federal fraud – the doping programme at US Postal – occurred in part while the United States was at war with Afghanistan.
The newspaper quotes Tony Anikeeff, an attorney with the Williams Mullen, who explained the background of the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act. “It is a highly controversial provision of the False Claims Act. It is used by the Justice Department mostly in dealing with fraud in Afghanistan because we were at war,” Anikeef said.
“The theory behind it is that when you're in the fog of war, the government cannot be spending time to root out fraud and that it needs time after the war to pick up the pieces."
The statute of limitations on a case such as Landis’ nominally covers the ten years before it has been filed, and therefore currently extends from 2010 back to 2000. If the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act were applied, the suit’s starting point would theoretically become 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began.
That in turn would allow Landis’ first allegations from 1998 to be admitted as evidence, and would increase the amount of money at stake in the case. US Postal Service provided $31 million in sponsorship between 2000 and 2004, but a further $9 million would be in play if the years 1998 and 1999 were also covered by the case.
Damages can be tripled under the False Claims Act, meaning that Armstrong faces potential damages of $120 million if the whistleblower suit is successful. "It's a bounty statute. He stands to gain a lot of money," Anikeef said of Landis, who raced for US Postal from 2002 to 2004, and whose 2010 doping confession precipitated Armstrong's downfall. Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in October 2012 and finally confessed to doping in January of this year.
The United States Justice Department, however, is not seeking to extend the statute of limitations of the qui tam suit beyond 2000, and Armstrong’s legal team has called for Landis’ request to be denied.
“The government chose not to argue that the war on terror and the second Iraq war distracted it from investigating doping by the United States Postal Service team," Armstrong’s lawyers said in court filings cited by USA Today. "Landis asks the court to foist this meritless theory of liability on the government as part of his attempt to force the government to pursue tenuous theories it has chosen to discard."
According to USA Today, Judge Wilkins will hear Armstrong’s request to dismiss the case altogether on Monday – his legal team argues that the case does not fall under the statute of limitations – but it is not yet known when he will issue his ruling.
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