Lance Armstrong. Photo Reuters
The United States has accused cyclist Lance Armstrong of
defrauding the US Postal Service by taking its sponsorship
money at the same time he was doping and using
performance-enhancing drugs in violation of cycling rules.
The government joined a civil suit against Armstrong,
stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned for life
from cycling in 2012 after accusations he had cheated for
years. In January, he said the accusations were true in an
interview with television host Oprah Winfrey.
A battle with the US government over civil fraud charges
threatens to sap what remains of the once-revered athlete's
reputation, and hurt his wallet.
Armstrong and his teammates from Tailwind Sports wore the
logo of the Postal Service during their record-breaking wins.
"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
Machen, the US attorney for Washington, said in a statement.
The sponsorship money totaled more than $30 million, the
Armstrong plans to contest the suit because the Postal
Service was not actually damaged, his lawyer, Robert Luskin,
"The Postal Service's own studies show that the service
benefited tremendously from its sponsorship - benefits
totaling more than $100 million," the lawyer said in a
Prosecutors have said they do not expect to charge him with a
Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis filed a sealed
whistleblower suit against Armstrong in 2010. The decision by
the government to join the suit triggered its unsealing.
Lawyers for Landis did not respond to requests for comment.
The government is suing under the False Claims Act, an 1863
law that encourages private individuals to file suit when
they have evidence of fraud involving government money.
When the government believes a suit has merit, it may take
over the litigation. The individuals, or whistleblowers, get
a portion of the proceeds if the case is successful.
Since the law was revitalized in 1986, it has been used
frequently against military contractors, pharmaceutical
companies and hospitals.
Armstrong is prepared to argue that claims over most of the
sponsorship money are time-barred, a source close to his
legal team said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The
sponsorship agreement expired in 2004, and there is a
six-year statute of limitations on recovery under a US
anti-fraud law, the source said.
The source raised two other arguments that could help
Armstrong. First, the sponsorship contract did not contain
specific language or promises related to doping.
Second, Armstrong was not in charge of Tailwind Sports, the
racing team firm that signed the contract with the Postal
Service and that existed before Armstrong joined it.
Luskin is among the most sought-after defense lawyers in
Washington. He represented former White House adviser Karl
Rove in a case about the leak of a CIA officer's name.