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US Department of Justice says Lance Armstrong "unjustly enriched" himself and joins legal action against him

Government formally becomes a party Landis whistelblower lawsuit

The US Department of Justice has lodged its formal complaint against Lance Armstrong in which it claims that the disgraced cyclist became “unjustly enriched” after he doped his way to seven Tour de France victories and was in breach of his contract with the US Postal Service.

The papers, which formally join the DOJ to the whistleblower lawsuit launched by Floyd Landis in September 2010 under the False Claims Act, also names team owner Tailwind Sports and manager Johan Bruyneel as defendants, reports the Associated Press.

Bruyneel is fighting the charges laid against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) through arbitration, although there is still no news of when an arbitration hearing might take place and USADA has repeatedly declined to comment on how the case is progressing.

The Belgian, who lives in London, was named extensively in USADA’s Reasoned Decision in the Armstrong case, which forms much of the supporting material for the DOJ’s complaint.

"Defendants were unjustly enriched to the extent of the payments and other benefits they received from the USPS, either directly or indirectly," says the DOJ’s complaint, filed yesterday, the deadline for it to join the action.

Between 1999 and 2004, the US Postal Service paid $40 million to sponsor the team. Armstrong received $17 million in salary during that period, says the DOJ, which says it is seeking an amount three times greater than any damages a jury may award in the case.

Potentially, the DOJ joining the Landis lawsuit could be more damaging for Armstrong in financial terms than any of the others he is facing, including one from insurer SCA Promotions which is suing him for $12 million in connection with bonuses he himself went to court to force it to pay.

According to Associated Press, there is a possibility Armstrong may try and agree a deal with the DOJ before the case goes to court, although earlier talks broke down ahead of the department announcing it was joining the whistleblower action.

However, Armstrong’s camp believes that far from damaging the US Postal Service, which the DOJ is required to prove to make its case, its sponsorship of the team benefited from the profile he gave it during the years when he dominated the Tour de France.

Elliott Peters, one of Armstrong’s lawyers, said: "The US Postal Service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship of the cycling team. Its own studies repeatedly and conclusively prove this.

"The USPS was never the victim of fraud. Lance Armstrong rode his heart out for the USPS team, and gave the brand tremendous exposure during the sponsorship years."

Paul Scott, a lawyer for Landis, disagreed, saying: "Even if the USPS received some ephemeral media exposure in connection with Mr. Armstrong's false victories, any illusory benefit from those times will be swamped over time immemorial by the USPS forever being tied to the largest doping scandal in the history of sports."

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.

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