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Lance Armstrong, above in 2003, this week refused for a second time to testify under oath before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Patrick Gardin • Associated Press ,

Feds join whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong

  • Article by: Annys Shin
  • Washington Post
  • February 22, 2013 - 8:34 PM

 

The Justice Department on Friday joined a whistleblower lawsuit against disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, increasing the odds that Armstrong may have to forfeit millions of dollars paid out by his team sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service.

The lawsuit, filed in 2010 by former teammate Floyd Landis on behalf of the Postal Service, alleges Armstrong defrauded the government by using ­taxpayer dollars to buy performance-enhancing drugs used to win seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005.

Former team manager Johan Bruyneel and team owner, Tailwind Sports, based in San Francisco, are named as co-defendants.

“This lawsuit is designed to help the Postal Service recoup the tens of millions of dollars it paid out to the Tailwind cycling team based on years of broken promises,” Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said in a statement. “In today’s economic climate, the U.S. Postal Service is simply not in a position to allow Lance Armstrong or any of the other defendants to walk away with the tens of millions of dollars they illegitimately procured.

”Armstrong and his teammates won six Tour de France titles while USPS was their sponsor. After denying doping allegations for years, Armstrong admitted last month to using banned substances such as EPO and testosterone, and bullying his teammates into doing the same.Until now, Armstrong’s admission has not resulted in serious financial consequences for the cancer survivor-turned-celebrity. His estimated net worth is $125 million.

The Landis lawsuit, filed under the federal False Claims Act, poses a bigger threat to Armstrong’s wealth because it allows the government to recover three times the monetary damages, in addition to civil penalties.Part of the case was unsealed Friday, but part continues to be kept under wraps while the Justice Department investigates. The complaint, however, was posted on a blog just before Armstrong’s January sit-down with Oprah Winfrey.

The government chose to step in against Armstrong after settlement negotiations with him stalled over the extent of damages the Postal Service suffered as a result of the doping, an Armstrong spokesman said. Those negotiations could resume.Armstrong’s camp has argued that the Postal Service sustained little or no damage because it got a 300 percent return for its sponsorship of the pro cycling team. Any financial benefit to the government could help reduce final monetary damages, said Erika Kelton, a whistleblower attorney. The Postal Service spent at least $31 million over four years to support the team.

His use of performance-enhancing drugs has now cost him every cycling achievement since 1998, including his Tour de France titles and an Olympic bronze medal, and lucrative contracts with Nike and other sponsors.Landis, by contrast, stands to collect millions if the whistleblower case succeeds. He was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win after being caught with banned drugs in his system.

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