Landis is seeking repayment of the roughly $30 million in U.S. Postal Service sponsorship money, which would be tripled under the law, as well as a civil penalty worth several thousands and reimbursement of his legal fees.
In addition to Armstrong, also named in the suit are are Thomas W. Weisel, a California dot.com-era millionaire, cyclist enthusiast and former owner of the U.S. Post Service team; Johan Bruyneel, the team’s former manager; William Stapleton, Armstrong’s longtime agent; and Barton Knaggs, a longtime friend and business partner of Armstrong; and their respective corporate entities, including Weisel’s Tailwind Sports, which owned the U.S. Postal Service team.
All had knowledge of the team’s systematic doping program, Landis claims, and thus were complicit in the fraud perpetuated on the federal government.
According to Chatfield, the qui tam lawyer, any one of the defendants in a whistleblower suit can be held liable for the financial damages.
While Armstrong’s net worth has been estimated at $100 million, Weisel has the deepest pockets among the defendants. A former cyclist and San Francisco Bay area investment banker, Weisel staked the money to launch a U.S.-based cycling team capable of winning the Tour de France, secured the U.S. Postal Service sponsorship and hired Armstrong as its chief rider. Armstrong has described him as a “father figure” in the past.
Assuming the case goes forward, Armstrong and his fellow defendants might argue that the U.S. Postal Service benefitted from its relationship with a multiple-time Tour de France championship team rather than were defrauded by it.
They would likely argue that the value Postal Service realized as a result of its sponsorship should be deducted from any repayment of sponsorship funds. Under the False Claims Act, financial damages are tripled before any off-set is made against damages for financial benefits the government realized despite a fraud, which means the defendants’ final tab could still be costly.