New York: The justice department on Friday joined a federal whistle-blower lawsuit claiming that Lance Armstrong, his former team manager and the company that owned his cycling team defrauded the government because cyclists on the team, sponsored by the United States Postal Service, were engaged in a systematic, covert doping scheme.
The lawsuit, initially filed in 2010 by Floyd Landis, one of Armstrong’s former teammates, asserts that the defendants concealed the doping from their sponsors because the sponsorship contract expressly prohibited the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The contract, from 2001 to 2004, was worth about $31 million.
Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said the government joined Landis as a plaintiff because Armstrong and his associates “took more than $30 million from the US Postal Service based on their contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules”. It is also unfair, he said, that the Postal Service is now associated with the cycling team that ran what the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) has called the most sophisticated doping programme in history.
“In today’s economic climate, the US 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,” Machen said in a statement.
Armstrong, who is serving a lifetime ban from Olympic sports for being the leader of a doping programme on his seven Tour de France-winning teams, vehemently denied for years that he had doped. Last month, however, he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs during his Tour victories.
Since then, he has been confronted with civil lawsuits that are threatening to drain him of millions of dollars. In one recent suit, an insurance company in Dallas is trying to recoup the $12.1 million it paid him for several of his Tour victories.
But the whistle-blower case has the potential to cause the most damage to Armstrong’s bank accounts. His estimated worth is about $125 million, but in federal whistle-blower lawsuits, a court or jury can award triple damages, which in this case could add up to an award of more than $90 million.