The 33-page lawsuit, which has been under seal since it was filed June 10, 2010, was leaked and posted on a blog Thursday, roughly nine hours before the first installment of Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was to air. After more than a decade of vehement denials, Armstrong confesses in the interview to having doped during a career that included seven Tour de France championships and an Olympic bronze medal—all of them now stripped.
The U.S. Justice Department faced a Thursday deadline to decide whether to join Landis’s action but is believed to have requested an extension. Federal officials are reportedly divided on whether pursuing the case represents a prudent use of taxpayer dollars.
Landis was a member of the U.S. Postal Service team from 2002 through 2004, and his whistleblower suit details his own use of banned substances and blood-doping practices along with numerous instances of Armstrong and others doing the same in hotel rooms, on team buses, and in private apartments.
Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France championship after a positive drug test. He now stands to collect millions if his case, filed under the federal False Claims Act, goes forward and succeeds.
False Claims Act whistleblower suits, which date from the Civil War era, are a mechanism for encouraging someone with information about fraud against the government — oftentimes an “insider” in a case of wrongdoing — to come forward, explains Peter Chatfield of Washington-based Phillips & Cohen, which specializes in such cases.
The plaintiff’s reward is a percentage of the money that’s recovered — 15-25 percent if the U.S. Department of Justice joins the action and takes the lead role in the case, or 25-30 percent if the private plaintiff pursues the case without the government’s help or resources, Chatfield said.
The insider can benefit financially, even if he was party to the fraud, as long as he wasn’t the mastermind.
Landis has aired many of the allegations in his suit in other forums — in interviews and leaks to journalists and in conversations with Travis Tygart, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s CEO, and Jeff Novitzky of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who investigates steroids use in sports.
Much of the information Landis provided Tygart and Novitzky became part of USADA’s roughly 1,000-page document that led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from competition for life in October.