Defending a federal whistleblower suit led by his former U.S. Postal Service teammate 37-year-old Floyd Landis, 41-year-old disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong hinted at his line of defense. Seeking all of the $41 million repaid to the USPS cycling team, Armstrong blamed the government for not knowing he was doping during his “miraculous” run of seven Tour de France titles [1999-2005]. While suspected of doping by the French press, Armstrong eluded detection until his riding buddy Floyd Landis won the Tour de France in 2006. Landis ratted out Lance after stripped from his own title in 2010 after a four-year-long investigation by the World Doping Agency found Floyd with seven-times the normal level of testosterone. After years of denials by Armstrong, Landis sang like a canary to the United States Anti-doping Agency, leading to Armstrong’s downfall.
Publicly flogged after years of denials, stripped of his Tour de France titles Oct. 22, 2012, just when things looked like they couldn’t get worse, Armstrong’s 2010 whistleblower suit now heats up. When a federal judge refused to toss the suit in 2010, Armstrong knew he’d eventually face the angry mob in court, betrayed by his deceptions and defrauded by his doping denials, winning seven yellow jerseys and running to the bank. Armstrong’s defense centers on the state of cycling while he competed for the USPS: Widespread doping that was ignored by the sport. When Germany’s sacrosanct 1997 Tour de France winner Jans Ulrich was banned from the sport Aug. 22, 2011, it underscored the fact that doping was rampant in cycling for years, especially during the time Armstrong competed for the USPS. Armstrong’s arguments may not wash with the False Claims Court Judge.
Since signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the so-called False Claims Act or “Lincoln Law,” amended numerous times up till 2009, was intended to protect the federal government against fraud and misrepresentation. Under Landis’ Qui Tam [False Claims] suit, the government seeks to reclaim the $41 million paid to the USPS cycling team when Armstrong, and ironically, Landis rode to Tour de France victories. Saying the USPS “got exactly what it bargained for,” Armstrong makes the argument that team management knew precisely what riders did in order to remain competitive during the doping heyday. In papers filed with the federal court, Armstrong alleges the USPS knew precisely what athletes did to remain competitive. Filing suit 10 years after the fact, Armstrong contends that the USPS knew exactly what it was getting into when it funded the cycling team’s two contracts worth $41 million.
Landis’ suit under the False Claims’ Act only derives validity from the fact that he also worked for the government and had personal knowledge of the fraud, making him the government’s whistleblower or star witness. As a plaintiff named in a False Claims Act, Landis would be entitled to 15% to 30% of the recovery, in this case about $6.15 to $12.3 million. Since Landis also defrauded the government with his own doping scandal, would Armstrong eventually file another False Claims suit against Landis? False claims actions were not designed to recover damages from sports’ doping scandals, where the U.S. Cycling Assn., U.S. Anti-doping Agency or World Anti-doping Agency arbitrarily decided when and if it was time to put down the hammer. When Ullrich, Armstrong, Landis, etc., dominated the sport, the governing bodies chose to turn a blind eye, ignoring the Elephant in the room.
When the world and U.S. anti-doping agencies accused Armstrong of blood doping or using, erthyropoietin or EPO in 2011, it had been over 40-years since Finish Olympic distance runner Lasse Virén won his first two Olympic Gold medals in the 5K and 10K races in 1972 Munich Olympics. No one on the International Olympic Committee or the World Anti-Doping Agency filed any complaint against Virén who was known to have received blood transfusions before his races. When he repeated his feat winning two more gold medals in 1976, he was etched into Olympic lore as the greatest distance runner ever. Under medical supervision, generations of athletes have sought to take advantage of medical and nutritional science. Before the Narcotics Control Act made benzedrine a prescription drug, generations of amateur and professional athletes routinely consumed it with impunity.
Prosecuting Armstrong under the False Claims Act goes beyond the mandate into the murky zone of what’s acceptable behavior in amateur and professional sports. Since generations of athletes sought any kind of medical, nutritional or chemical advantage, it’s not reasonable to prosecute Armstrong for defrauding the government under the False Claims Act. “It [USPS] was aware of intense national and international media coverage of the team’s doping and widespread doping throughout the sport,” read Armstrong statement to the False Claims Court. “The government wanted a winner and the publicity, exposure and acclaim that goes along with being a sponsor. It got exactly what it bargained for,” said Armstrong’s statement, refuting the lawsuit’s major premise that Armstrong defrauded the government. When Lance raced for himself, USPS and posterity, he took advantage of all scientific advances.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.