The United States Federal Government has decided to join the whistleblower lawsuit brought by Floyd Landis against Lance Armstrong and others connected with the former US Postal Service cycling team. Official confirmation came this evening, shortly after a Wall Street Journal report, that the US Department of Justice has joined the action against Armstrong, former US Postal team manager Johan Bruyneel and the team's management company, Tailwind Sports.
According to the Department of Justice, Armstrong and others "knowingly" broke their "contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules" through the use of performance enhancing substances.
"The Postal Service contract with Tailwind required the team to enter cycling races, wear the Postal Service logo, and follow the rules banning performance enhancing substances – rules that Lance Armstrong has now admitted he violated," commented Stuart Delery, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Department of Justice.
The amounts at stake dwarf those that Armstrong may have to repay in relation to separate lawsuits brought by The Sunday Times and SCA Promotions, each seeking repayment of seven figure sums paid to the disgraced cyclist in 2006 after he sued them.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Armstrong and others named in the whistleblower lawsuit could have to repay up to three times the $31 million the team received in sponsorship from the US Postal Service from 1999 to 2004.
Armstrong won the Tour de France in each of those years, as well as in 2005 when the team was sponsored by Discovery Channel, but was last year stripped of all those victories and banned for life.
Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported that United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart had been lobbying Attorney General Eric Holder to have the Department of Justice join Landis’s lawsuit.
Tygart reportedly told the Attorney General that USADA’s investigation into the US Postal team had uncovered evidence of fraud relating to federal funds.
The website also reported that one of the reasons for Armstrong’s decision, announced this week, not to make a formal confession of doping to USADA was because it was unable to provide guarantees relating to any potential federal action.
Armstrong and other members of the US Postal team were previously the subject of a federal investigation shelved in February last year.
Earlier this month, however, federal sources confirmed that they are now investigating him in relation to potential charges including obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation.
Landis brought his whistleblower action in September 2010 under the False Claims Act, which incentivises those with knowledge of fraudulent activities to bring an action on the government’s behalf.
Former US Postal rider Landis, who would go on to win the Tour de France with Phonak in 2006 only to be stripped of the title after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, eventually confessed to doping in May 2010 after years of denial.
Should his whistleblower lawsuit result in the government recovering any money, Landis would be entitled to a percentage of it.
At the time Landis filed the lawsuit, Armstrong’s spokesman Mark Fabiani said: “This news that Floyd Landis is in this for the money reconfirms everything we all knew about Landis,” describing him as “a serial liar, an epic cheater and a swindler.”
Fabiani added: “What remains a complete mystery is why the government would devote a penny of the taxpayers’ money to help Floyd Landis further his vile, cheating ambitions.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.