In yet another defeat for former cycling hero Lance Armstrong, the U.S. Postal Service was given the green light to continue its False Claims Act case by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The whistleblower lawsuit, which seeks to recover most of the sponsorship money fronted by the USPS for Lance’s team, was originally filed in 2010 by Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis. The lawsuit alleges an unprecedented set of facts involving Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs during his reign as a seven-time Tour de France winner – all while under the sponsorship of a federal government agency.
Details and timeline of United States ex rel. Landis v. Tailwind Sports Corporation, et al.
The background of the highly-publicized downfall of Lance Armstrong begins in 1996 when the U.S. Postal Service signed on to sponsor Armstrong and his teammates through his corporation – Tailwind Sports. From 1996 through 2004, the USPS fronted approximately $31 million to the team that, with Armstrong at the lead, cycled to victory in every Tour de France bicycle race from 1999 through 2004.
The sponsorship arrangement included several important provisions governing the relationship, including a prohibition on the use of any performance enhancing drugs or methods in conjunction with the team’s races. The purpose of this prohibition was to ensure the team played “fair and abid[ed] by the rules – including the rules against doping.” Any violation of this rule would mean certain loss of sponsorship, as well as harsh civil and criminal penalties.
Nonetheless, Armstrong became embroiled in a firestorm of doping allegations, consistently denying he had ever used performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France. However, a 2012 report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed that Armstrong had, in fact, used banned substances for the majority of his career, and was thereafter precluded from ever participating in professional cycling again.
Unfortunately for Armstrong, his troubles did not end there – with the U.S. Department of Justice intervening in his teammate’s False Claims Act lawsuit in February, 2013.
District Court holds in favor of DOJ; keeps case alive
Armstrong’s lawyers recently presented several arguments in favor of his motion to dismiss the claim. The crux of the defendants’ argument is that the USPS knew, or should have known, of the doping occurring on the U.S. team and, instead of taking steps to stop the activity, continued to allow the team to participate in the Tour de France – presumably to gather as much publicity and exposure as possible. The defendants also pointed out that the doping activity began over a decade ago and the government has far exceeded the six-year time limit within which to file its False Claims Act suit.
The judge, unpersuaded by the defendants’ contentions, noted that Armstrong and his team repeatedly and consistently denied all doping allegations for the duration of their run as the back-to-back victors of the Tour de France.
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