Lance Armstrong caused an international sensation when he finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs while competing in the Tour de France. Floyd Landis, Armstrong’s ex-teammate, who has also confessed to doping, filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Washington D.C. against Armstrong in 2010. The lawsuit alleges that Armstrong defrauded the American government, which sponsored Armstrong in his races. Now the U.S. Justice Department has joined the legal battle.
Landis filed his case under the False Claims Act which givens private citizens a financial incentive to file suit on the government’s behalf against individuals and entities who they know are cheating the government. Whistleblower cases are first filed “under seal” which means that they are not initially announced to the public. This gives the government an opportunity to investigate the allegations before deciding whether or not to join the case. The Justice Department has recently announced that it is intervening in the lawsuit against Armstrong and other named defendants. This has greatly increased Landis’s chances of success because the government normally only joins lawsuits that it thinks it can win.
Violators of the False Claims Act are liable for up to three times the damages plus an additional $5,500 to $11,000 for each false claim. U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. has said that Armstrong and his associates “took more than $30 millions from the U.S. Postal Service based on their contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules.” The amount the government might be able to recover in a court of law amounts to between $90 million and $100 million. If they win, Landis, as the plaintiff who first filed the case, can collect up to one-third of that money.
According to media reports, Armstrong offered $5 million to settle the case, but the government wanted at least $10 million. News reports have also said that Armstrong wants immunity from criminal charges as part of his settlement with the U.S. Postal Service. The government does not appear to have offered that as part of the deal.
However, it is not uncommon for settlement negotiations to restart, even as the two teams are preparing for trial. Most civil cases are resolved before trial and the government’s involvement in the case will no doubt put pressure on the defendants to settle.
Armstrong’s attorneys have argued that the U.S. Postal Service made more money off of its sponsorship of Armstrong than it ever paid to Armstrong and his team. However, this is irrelevant to the matter of whether or not Armstrong broke the law. If Armstrong and his teammates received $30 million from the U.S. government by promising to follow the anti-doping rules and broke that promise, then they are liable for having broken their word, regardless of how much money the U.S. postal service gained. Machen’s lawsuit also alleges that the U.S. Postal Service continues to suffer by being associated with Armstrong and his team. The U.S. government can use this to show that they have suffered much more in damages than the initial $30 million paid to Armstrong and his team.
Armstrong is arguing that the U.S. Postal Service should have known that he was taking performance enhancing drugs because of the allegations at the time and an investigation conducted by French police. However, Armstrong, the teams lead rider, was vehemently denying the allegations all the time that he was under investigation.
The consumer and tax payer rights law firm of Lubin Austermuehle represents whistleblowers who are pursing qui tam lawsuits at any level of government or for violations of the securities laws and IRS code, including claims under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, the Chicago whistleblower ordinance, the Dodd-Frank Act and the federal False Claims Act. Based in Chicago and Oak Brook, Ill., our Schaumburg and Evanston area qui tam and False Claims Act lawyers stand ready to represent whistleblowers throughout the United States — regardless of whether prosecutors have decided to join the lawsuit. If you know about fraud against a government agency and you’re ready to speak up, you can learn more about whistleblower lawsuits at a free, confidential consultation. To set one up, please contact Lubin Austermuehle online or call 630-333-0333 today.