Friday, January 18, 2013

DOJ Officials Reportedly Recommended Intervening in Qui Tam Against Lance Armstrong

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Department of Justice "officials recommended joining" the sealed qui tam False Claims Act filed against former cyclist Lance Armstrong by his former teammate, Floyd Landis. Mr. Landis was the Tour de France winner in 2006, but was stripped of his title due to doping charges.

Though widely discussed in the press, the qui tam suit has not been unsealed, and neither DOJ nor Landis have confirmed its existence. The Wall Street Journal reports that a source who has seen the suit states that Landis alleges that Armstrong and team managers of the U.S. Postal Cycling Team "defrauded the U.S. government when they accepted money from the U.S. Postal Service." From what can be gleaned, the suit appears to be based on a false certification theory because the U.S. Postal Team contract "required that the team refrain from using performance enhancing drugs." Landis and other former team members are alleged to have testified that "Armstrong was at the center of a sophisticated doping ring and knowingly flouted the contract." The Journal reports further that the U.S. Postal Team received $30.6 million in sponsorship funds from the Postal Service, and the contract is reported to have provided that "negative publicity due to alleged possession, use or sale of banned substances by riders or team personnel would constitute an event of default as would a failure to take action if a rider violates a morals or drug clause."

According to the Wall Street Journal, Armstrong's legal team has been in settlement negotiations" with DOJ, but have been unable to reach an agreement thus far. Along with Armstrong, Landis also allegedly sued Johan Bruyneel, the U.S. Postal Team's director, and Thom Weisel, the former chair of the management company that owned the U.S. Postal Cycling Team.

This is an interesting suit. On the one hand, DOJ purportedly alleges that the Postal Service was defrauded because the Team promised not to let cyclists dope and failed to do so, while continuing to collect sponsorship money. On the other hand, the events at issue occurred many years ago -- the Postal Service sponsorship of the team ended in 2004 -- and given the success of the Team at the time, the Postal Service reaped the benefits and good will of its sponsorship during that period. According to U.S. ex rel Davis v. District of Columbia, did the government in fact receive the benefit of its bargain at the time?

A. Brian Albritton
January 17, 2013

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