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US Department of Justice joins lawsuit against Lance Armstrong for doping, fraud

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Suit charges that Armstrong defrauded his sponsor, the US Postal Service, by concealing his team's use of performance-enhancing drugs

Lance Armstrong Flickr
Lance Armstrong Flickr

Lance Armstrong's public confession of his longtime use of blood doping and performance-enhancing drugs is about to get very expensive. On Friday, Armstrong's lawyers stated that the US Department of Justice had joined a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong filed by former teammate Floyd Landis. The DOJ can join any lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act, but the federal government's involvement is also noteworthy because the Armstrong's cycling team's primary sponsor was the United States Postal Service. The suit charges that Armstrong defrauded the USPS by concealing his doping and retaliating against team members who revealed both the doping and the fraud. According to the the Associated Press, Armstrong and the federal government had been in settlement talks, but a source close to the talks says the two sides are "tens of millions of dollars apart on how much Armstrong should pay to settle the case."

Doping lawsuit could cost Armstrong tens of millions of dollars

Officially, Armstrong's legal stance is that the USPS has not been damaged by its $40 million sponsorship of the cycling team. "The Postal Service's own studies show that the service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship — benefits totaling more than $100 million," said Armstrong's attorney Robert Luskin. One assumes that the revelation that Armstrong led the USPS team in years of cheating and concealing his cheating and is eventual public disgrace after years of full-throated denials is not factored into that $100 million figure.

Landis first filed his whistleblower lawsuit against Armstrong in 2010. Landis won the 2006 Tour de France but was later stripped of his title for doping. (Armstrong was recently stripped of his Tour de France titles as well.) Landis and other teammates charged that Armstrong and USPS team manager Johan Bruyneel pressured other members of the teams to use the banned substance EPO and take other measures to prevent detection both of their own doping and that of their teammates. The suit seeks redress for Armstrong's violation of his sponsorship contract's morals clause, for fraud in concealing those violations, and for intimidating and punishing teammates and other employees who attempted to reveal those violations to the world.

Armstrong was an innovator in concealing doping, and that's what will ultimately haunt himIn the history of sports doping, Armstrong and his team members were particularly innovative in the efforts they made to conceal their activities and enforce discipline. Their incentives weren't limited to winning races but were directly tied to lucrative sponsorship agreements. Armstrong may have finally paid the price for doping within the sport, which never would have happened without whistleblowers speaking out. But the real price in terms of both dollars and legal punishment will come from his sponsors. It will come from the federal government, and it will be for bullying and fraud.