My Life With Lance
Drugs and the Peloton
ARMSTRONG COULD BE LIABLE FOR MILLIONS IN CIVIL DAMAGES
It’s been widely reported, originally by The Wall Street Journal, that former Postal rider Floyd Landis filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit in 2010 targeting Armstrong. Under the federal False Claims Act, such a suit can be filed by any U.S. citizen on behalf of the government.
A typical whistleblower suit accuses some party, like a government contractor, of defrauding Uncle Sam. The filing reportedly accuses the Postal Service team, including Armstrong, team founder Thomas Weisel (a wealthy Silicon Valley investor and amateur bike racer), and team management, of defrauding the Postal Service by signing sponsorship agreements it knew to be false. Those agreements specified that riders would be immediately disciplined if they doped and that doping would not be tolerated.
Whistleblower cases are designed to punish, as well as to recoup government money: by statute, any damages awarded may be tripled. As ESPN discovered when it acquired documents related to the sponsorship, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Postal Service gave the team $31.9 million between 2001 and 2004. So, theoretically, Armstrong and associates could be on the hook for more than $90 million. Landis won’t say if he started the action, but if he did he would stand to get a percentage.
While money could be a motive, whoever is behind the suit may also be interested in the process of pretrial discovery. During such a case, Armstrong’s ex-wife and ex-girlfriends, former teammates, managers, and friends could be subpoenaed to testify under penalty of perjury.
But previous investigations—and recent news developments—could make this suit seem unnecessary, since USADA claims to have multiple witnesses to Postal’s doping program. Meanwhile, some legal experts doubt that the case would get very far.
Whistleblower suits stand a much better chance if the government weighs in on the side of the whistleblower. Thus far, the USPS has refused to comment on the suit, and there’s no indication that it or the Department of Justice is seriously considering joining in, which usually means they doubt the case’s merits.
Why? Possibly because the case doesn’t fit the model of a typical whistleblower action. It’s a stretch, experts say, to compare a defense contractor who says his widgets are made of titanium but aren’t with an organized sports-doping program.
And keep in mind that no court, and no national authority, has ever said Armstrong cheated. USADA can take away Armstrong’s titles, but it does not have the authority of a U.S. court.