New US federal investigation looms for Armstrong
Justice Department reportedly studying whistleblower action brought by Landis
It has been revealed that Floyd Landis has filed a lawsuit under federal ‘whistleblower’ legislation against Lance Armstrong and other people formerly involved with the US Postal Service cycling team. The news has prompting speculation that the US Justice Department is considering opening its now investigation into the team’s affairs, which are also being investigated by Jeff Novitzky of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
Armstrong’s advisors have responded by saying that any such enquiry would be a waste of taxpayer’s dollars and that Landis is only interested in money, consistent with the approach they have taken since May this year when the latter first made public his allegations of the use of illegal drugs use against the seven-time Tour de France winner.
When he made those accusations, which were also directed at other members of the US Postal Service set-up including team manager Johan Bruyneel, Landis also confessed to his own drug use after four years of denial, including a costly battle through the courts part-funded by fans who had believed his protestations of innocence.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Landis, who himself won the Tour de France in 2006 following what turned out to be Armstrong’s temporary retirement from cycling, has filed his claim under the federal False Claims Act, legislation that enables citizens to bring a lawsuit if they believe the government has been defrauded.
Under that law, the US government has the option to intervene in a lawsuit, in effect prosecuting the case on its own behalf. Should it decide not to exercise that option, the person bringing the action – Landis in this case – is free to continue to carry it on alone.
The newspaper reported that last week, a lawyer from the US Justice Department’s litigation branch had asked for documents related to a 2005 arbitration hearing which included allegations of drug use against Armstrong, as had a US Postal inspector. It added that it was not clear whether the request from the US Justice Department lawyer was connected to the whistleblower case, although that would seem a logical inference to draw.
While the lawsuit has been delivered under seal, and its contents are therefore not yet public, it is believed that Landis will have alleged that since the US Postal Service is a federal agency, use of money obtained through its sponsorship of the cycling team, managed by Tailwind Spors, to fund a doping programme would constitute fraud against the government.
The newspaper said that according to a sponsorship agreement it had seen, US Postal Service had paid $30.6 million to Tailwind between 2001 and 2004. It added that the agreement contined provisions "negative publicity" through "alleged possession, use or sale of banned substances," whether by cyclists or team staff, would amount to an "event of default," as did failing to take "action" against a rider in breach of provisions in the agreement to ethics or drugs.
The Wall Street Journal said that Landis had declined to comment on the reported lawsuit, and quoted a spokesman for the US Justice Department as saying: "Since this matter is under review by the Department of Justice, the Postal Service will have nothing to say until this review is completed."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Armstrong, who has consistently denied doping allegations made by Landis and others, said: "What remains a complete mystery is why the government would devote a penny of the taxpayer's money to help Floyd Landis," calling him “an epic cheater."
Turning to the fact that under whisteblower legislation, Landis could stand to collect 30% of any amounts recovered by the government, the spokesman added: "This news that Floyd Landis is in this for the money reconfirms everything we all knew about Landis."
The reported whistleblower action is separate to the criminal investigation being conducted into use of performance enhancing substances and fraud in cycling, centered around Armstrong and US Postal, by the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, which is being led by FDA Special Agent Novitzky, who previously successfully led the BALCO anti-doping enquiry.