A federal judge in the United States has ruled that Lance Armstrong will have to stand trial in the whistleblower lawsuit initiated by his former US Postal Service team mate, Floyd Landis, an action that could cost the Texan up to $100 million if he loses.
Landis brought the action in 2010 under the False Claims Act, a piece of legislation originally targeting profiteers during World War 2, but now also used in cases concerning alleged misuse of federal funds generally.
He alleged that that Armstrong and others connected with the team misused federal funds, in the form of sponsorship money, to fund the doping programme that led to the seven-time Tour de France winner being stripped of those titles and banned from professional cycling for life in 2012.
The action was subsequently joined by the Department of Justice, and after years of legal wrangling with Armstrong’s lawyers attempting to have the case thrown out, US District Judge Christopher Cooper today ruled it should go to trial, most likely before a jury.
The judge said: “Because the government has offered evidence that Armstrong withheld information about the team’s doping and use of [performance-enhancing drugs] and that the anti-doping provisions of the sponsorship agreements were material to USPS’s decision to continue the sponsorship and make payments under the agreements, the Court must deny Armstrong’s motion for summary judgment on this issue.”
Attorneys for the 45-year-old had said that USPS gained much more value than the $32.3 million it spent to sponsor the team, and as a result had sustained no damage.
However, Judge Cooper disagreed, saying: “The Court concludes that the monetary amount of the benefits USPS received is not sufficiently quantifiable to keep any reasonable juror from finding that the agency suffered a net loss on the sponsorship, especially if one considers the adverse effect on the Postal Service’s revenues and brand value that may have resulted from the negative publicity surrounding the subsequent investigations of Armstrong’s doping and his widely publicized confession.
“Determination of damages must therefore be left to a jury. Accordingly, the Court declines to grant Armstrong summary judgment on damages and will set the case for trial.”
Under the False Claims Act, and depending on the ruling of the judge trying the case, the US Government can recoup up to three times the original amount at issue, meaning that Armstrong may face a bill of close to $100 million should he lose.
That would also leave Landis – himself stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping – in line for a bumper payday, since as the initiator of the action he would be entitled to a substantial percentage of any moneys recouped by the government.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.