Lance Armstrong: Justice Department Adds Federal Weight To Whistleblower Lawsuit

If Lance Armstrong thought his legal troubles would lessen after his dramatic confession to Oprah Winfrey last month, the US Justice Department have just dramatically refuted that notion.

The Justice Department will notify a federal court on Friday that it is joining one of Armstrong’s former racing teammates in a lawsuit that is primarily suing the ex-cycling champion for using performance enhancing drugs during the Tour de France.

The government, who have mulled the decision for three years, have signed on to a lawsuit filed in June 2010 by Floyd Landis, one of Armstrong’s former Tour de France teammates who has already admitted to cheating, NBC News reports.

Among the claims included in the suit is an allegation by Landis that he saw Armstrong store then re-inject his own blood to boost his performance. Landis also alleges that Armstrong twice gave him banned hormones before races.

The Department of Justice have joined the civil fraud suit under the False Claims Act.

Their complaint states that because Armstrong and other members of the US Postal Service cycling team used banned drugs and blood transfusions, they defrauded the government by violating its illegal drugs ban and breached the terms of their sponsorship contracts.

In short, the government wants its money back, possibly to the tune of around $100 million, according to USA Today.

Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey in January

The US postal service gave around $30 million to sponsor Armstrong’s cycling team, which included Landis. Under the False Claims Act, the government can sue for treble damages with Landis benefiting by up to 25 percent because he is the whistleblower who initiated the case.

In response to the new development, Armstrong’s attorney Robert Luskin denied the allegation that the government was defrauded in a statement that read:

“Lance and his representatives worked constructively over these last weeks with federal lawyers to resolve this case fairly, but those talks failed because we disagree about whether the Postal Service was damaged. The Postal’s Services own studies show that the Service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship — benefits totaling more than $100 million.”

For context, the federal government dropped a criminal fraud investigation against Armstrong in February 2012. It’s possible they have now picked it up again after his admissions to Winfrey in a highly publicized interview last month.

In that interview, the 41-year-old confessed to taking performance enhancing drugs during all seven of his victories in the Tour de France between 1999 to 2005. As a result, Armstrong’s admissions have bolstered the multiple lawsuits pending against him, and ignited new ones.

USA Today reports the government’s lawsuit names several co-defendants: Armstrong’s cycling team’s management company, Tailwind Sports, Tailwind’s financier, Thomas Weisel, his agent Bill Stapleton, and Stapleton’s agency.

They add that if the government can prove damages, any of the defendants could be held liable for the entire amount they are suing for.

NBC News writes that while the government’s action is a serious new legal threat to Armstrong, Armstrong could argue that his contract with the team owners never explicitly prohibited blood doping. In addition, legal experts say he could claim he never signed an agreement directly with the Postal Service.

It was reported this week on the cycling website Velo News that Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder in January, urging the government to join Landis’ lawsuit.

For perspective, the Justice Department’s bombshell comes after Armstrong recently refused to meet with USADA and give testimony under oath about his doping practices, even though the organization extended the deadline for that meeting to Wednesday, The New York Times notes.

NYT added that Armstrong’s legal team said their client would only cooperate with an “international tribunal.” In light of today’s news, that may now change.