Cyclist Lance Armstrong speaks with Oprah Winfrey during an interview in January. The Justice Department filed a 28-page complaint against the seven-time Tour de France winner who had his titles stripped following claims Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs while sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service. (George Burns / Oprah Winfrey Network via Getty Ima)
The federal government filed a 28-page complaint against Lance Armstrong on Tuesday that details several years of lying, cheating and manipulating by the former cyclist for the sake of winning and financial reward.
According to the complaint, Armstrong earned a $17.9 million salary as a cyclist from 1998 to 2004 — much of it paid by the U.S. Postal Service’s $40 million agreement to sponsor Armstrong’s cycling team.
By filing the complaint Tuesday, the Justice Department followed through with its announced plan in February to sue Armstrong, his cycling team’s management company and Johan Bruyneel, his manager who earned a $1.7 million salary. The suit accuses them of civil fraud and seeks damages that could amount to $120 million.
“The Defendants … made false statements, both publicly and directly to the USPS, that were intended to hide the team’s misconduct so that those invoices would be paid,” said the complaint obtained by USA Today Sports. The suit says Armstrong was “unjustly enriched” in cheating to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles, which were stripped last year.
Under the False Claims Act, the government could receive triple the damages it proves at trial, possibly the $40 million sponsorship amount times three. But the suit is not going to hinge on proving Armstrong used banned drugs and blood transfusions to boost himself on the bike, as the cyclist confessed to that in January. Instead, the case will focus on legal questions such as whether his doping violated USPS contract agreements and whether the USPS suffered damages because of Armstrong’s doping.
Armstrong’s attorneys also claim the six-year statute of limitations should void most of the suit, which originated in a similar suit against Armstrong filed in 2010 by a former cycling teammate, Floyd Landis.
“The DOJ’s complaint against Lance Armstrong is opportunistic, and insincere,” Armstrong attorney Elliot Peters said in a statement provided to USA Today Sports. “The U.S. 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.”
The government disagrees, saying Armstrong misled the USPS and violated his sponsorship agreement by doping.
“Because the Defendants’ misconduct undermined the value of the sponsorship to the USPS, the United States suffered damage in that it did not receive the value of the services for which it bargained,” the suit states.
As the whistleblower who brought the case in 2010, Landis stands to get part of the award if the suit succeeds. Landis, who won the Tour de France in 2006, also has admitted to doping. Last year, he faced his own federal court case in which he admitted to defrauding 1,765 people who donated to a defense fund set up to help him falsely deny doping charges. He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay back $478,354.
His attorney, Paul Scott, said in a statement Tuesday night that “Mr. Landis is pleased to see the United States take this important step toward recovering taxpayer dollars lost to fraud.” He disputed the claim from Armstrong’s attorney that the USPS was not damaged.
“It plainly does more damage than good to the policies, programs and international standing of the United States for it to be associated with a cycling team that dopes to win,” Scott said in the statement to USA Today Sports. “The fact that the team’s fraud was concealed for many years does not take away from the fact that the United States was harmed. 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.”
Schrotenboer writes for USA Today.