The doping and duplicity Lance Armstrong rode to glory have been costly: He has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, has been forced to return his 2000 Olympic bronze medal and has lost his portfolio of corporate sponsors. Exiled from the Livestrong charity that was to be his legacy, Armstrong also has destroyed his image as an athlete of uncommon valor.
On Monday, a federal district court judge began deliberating whether there is merit in a so-called “whistleblower” lawsuit with potential damages that could eclipse all of the disgraced champion’s losses to date.
Filed by Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis and joined by the U.S. Justice Department, the suit could cost Armstrong as much as $120 million — roughly three times what the U.S. Postal Service spent to sponsor his team from 1998 to 2004.
Under the Federal False Claims Act, a U.S. citizen can sue any entity for defrauding the federal government. If found guilty, the defendant must pay triple the amount of damages.
Landis, whose own cycling achievements were fueled by doping, filed such a claim in June 2010, arguing that Armstrong, as well as the team’s owner, manager and others, had defrauded the government by cheating under the U.S. Postal Service umbrella. The U.S. government didn’t join the suit until February 2013, after Armstrong confessed to talk-show host Oprah Winfrey about his years of doping and deceit.
In arguing that the suit should be dismissed, Elliot R. Peters, among Armstrong’s cadre of attorneys, faulted the government for making no serious effort to find out whether Armstrong was cheating.
“Their failure to lift a finger is fatal to their total argument,” Peters said of the U.S. Postal service, arguing that the government didn’t pursue a claim of fraud until after the statute of limitations had expired. “They weren’t harmed. They didn’t get defective widgets. They got a massive amount of publicity.”
Representing the government, trial attorney Robert Chandler noted Armstrong had lied under oath and falsified documents for more than a decade, successfully evading positive drugs tests with help from a team of enablers.
“Incredibly, he now claims that the Postal Service should have seen through his extensive cover-up,” Chandler said of Armstrong, flatly rejecting Peters’s argument. “The Postal Service simply did not know and could not know that Lance Armstrong and his team were doping.”
In all, nine attorneys addressed the judge during the three-hour hearing, which adjourned with Wilkins raising the possibility he would dismiss the charges against some of the defendants but probably not all. In addition to Armstrong, among those cited in the claim are Johan Bruyneel, former manager of the U.S. Postal team; and Thomas W. Weisel, an investment banker whose now defunct company, Tailwind Sports Corp., owned the team.