US judge says he's unlikely to dismiss Lance Armstrong fraud case
Meanwhile, Floyd Landis's lawyers invoke wartime legislation on limitations
A federal judge in the United States has strongly hinted that he is unlikely to dismiss a lawsuit brought against Lance Armstrong and others by the disgraced cyclist’s former team-mate, Floyd Landis.
Landis, who won the Tour de France in 2006 only to be stripped of that title due to his own doping, took advantage of whistleblower legislation to file the lawsuit under the False Claims Act in 2010. The Department of Justice joined the action in February this year.
The lawsuit alleges that Armstrong and others defrauded the government of up to $40 million in sponsorship from the United States Postal Service, which backed his team until the end of the 2003 season, the year he won the fifth of the seven Tour de France titles he was stripped of last year.
Other defendants include Armstrong’s agent Bill Stapleton and former United States Postal Service team manager Johan Bruyneel, as well as Thomas Weisel, backer of the team’s management company, Tailwind Sports.
During a hearing in Washington, DC, US District Judge Robert Wilkins said that he would issue a written decision within 30 days with regard to motions by Armstrong and his fellow defendants to dismiss the lawsuit, reports USA Today.
"It might get dismissed as to some defendants,” the judge said. “I can tell you I doubt it as to all," he went on, without saying which defendants might succeed in having the motion withdrawn.
As the central figure in the case and, as of January this year, a confessed doper, Armstrong is unlikely to be among them.
“This case has been pending for quite a long time, and one way or another I intend to bring it to a resolution fairly quickly," the judge added.
In seeking to have the case against him dismissed, Armstrong’s lawyers claimed yesterday that USPS had benefited from publicity while it was sponsoring the team.
They also said that the lawsuit should be barred by a six-year statute of limitations, while the government’s lawyers say that due to Armstrong’s denials of doping, it should be extended to 10 years prior to it being filed in 2010.
Landis’s lawyers have deployed a novel argument to try and get it to go back even further – by invoking a piece of legislation used in times of war.
They said that because, at the time USPS sponsored the team, the United States was at war in Afghanistan, the case is subject to the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act.
Going back longer would mean that Armstrong and other defendants, if they lost the case, would potentially have to repay more money and face heavier fines – and Landis, as the person who brought the lawsuit, would benefit financially.
Tony Anikeeff, a lawyer who specialises in this type of case, told USA Today: "It is a highly controversial provision of the False Claims Act.
"It is used by the Justice Department mostly in dealing with fraud in Afghanistan because we were at war. The theory behind it is that when you're in the fog of war, the government cannot be spending time to root out fraud and that it needs time after the war to pick up the pieces."