For Lance Armstrong, owning up to enhancing his performance by various dubious or illegal means could, in retrospect, have been a mistake.
The U.S. Justice Department has been given permission by a judge to proceed with a lawsuit against Armstrong alleging that his acceptance of sponsorship money from the U.S. Postal Service constituted fraud because of the drugs he was taking.
The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Judge Robert L. Wilkins in Washington, D.C., refused a plea from Armstrong to dismiss the case. Armstrong’s defense was that the lawsuit was invalid due to the time that has elapsed since the alleged offence was committed, and at the time, the Postal Service didn’t want to investigate the allegations about doping on the team.
Judge Wilkins pointed out that Armstrong had consistently claimed that both he and the team were not taking drugs. The case may never have arisen had it not been for whistleblower Floyd Landis, a member of the team, who sued on behalf of the government in 2010.
He was able to do that by applying the False Claims act which permits private litigation by individuals to claim fraud has been committed against the government. If successful, the claimant is entitled to a share of the monies recovered.
In 2013, the government decided to file its own claim against Lance Armstrong alleging that the team had defrauded the Postal Service because it had not adhered to the rules of the cycling authorities which prohibit the use of performance enhancing drugs.
As a result of the deception, the Postal Service paid some $40 million in sponsorship fees, half of which went to Armstrong himself.
Lawyers acting for Armstrong and the Justice Department declined to comment, and Landis’s attorney said he was reviewing the judge’s ruling.
As a consequence of Armstrong’s admission, he has been stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he once held. Landis was also stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title after his admission.
Should Armstrong and the other defendants lose the case, they could be made to pay back damages totaling three times the basic value of the claims.
Apart from Armstrong’s defense about the time that has elapsed, he argues that the Postal Service did not suffer any damage as a result of his actions and those of the team. Indeed, the Postal service received tens of millions of dollars in publicity as a result of exposure to millions of spectators and TV viewers throughout the word.
From an objective standpoint, Armstrong seems to have a reasonable case regarding the publicity. Nothing which happened subsequently had any retrospective detrimental effect on that.
He has also pointed out in interviews that performance enhancement at the time was endemic in cycling events for all teams, and without it, there was no possibility of winning.
Perhaps yet another example of the argument that “the b***tds moved the goal posts.”
But that defense won’t help Lance Armstrong now, and, according to the judge, neither will the claim that the lawsuit is beyond the time limit.