Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department have filed documents in federal court that explain why they are pursuing a $100 million civil fraud lawsuit against Lance Armstrong – but not other cyclists on Armstrong’s team who committed many of the same doping violations.
“Armstrong was unique,” they wrote.
The federal government is suing Armstrong on behalf of the U.S. Postal Service, which paid $32.3 million to sponsor Armstrong’s cycling team from 2000 to 2004. The case is set for trial in November in Washington, D.C.
“It is undisputed that Armstrong was the ‘lead rider’ for the team,” said the document submitted by government attorneys, including Chad Readler, the acting assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Justice Department. “He was by far the highest paid rider. For example, in 2001, he was paid $4 million, while some other riders were paid between $30,000 and $37,000. Propelling Armstrong to win the Tour de France each year was the team’s singular focus. He wielded an ‘iron fist’ and, together with the manager Johan Bruyneel, ran the team as a `dictatorship.’”
The government’s suit alleges Armstrong’s cycling team violated its sponsorship contract by using performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to cheat in races. It alleges Armstrong then concealed the doping to keep getting paid, essentially ripping off the government by causing false claims to be submitted for payment. Under the False Claims Act, the government could get its money back times three if the case succeeds, nearly $100 million.
“This case seeks recovery from the individual most culpable for the fraud against USPS, who directed the fraud, and who gained the most from the fraud,” the government said in the filing.
The reason the government is making this argument now is because it hopes to prevent Armstrong’s attorneys from making a case to the jury that Armstrong is being selectively prosecuted by the government. Armstrong competed at a time when doping was rampant in cycling, but the government is asking a federal judge to forbid him and his attorneys from telling a jury that he is being unfairly singled out.
To support their argument, the government explained how Armstrong was not the same as other riders on his team who also doped.
“He had extensive input into rider and staff composition, (and) decided, with Bruyneel , the races the team raced in and the riders who would compete and encouraged other team riders to use PEDs,” the government said in the filing. “He monitored his teammates’ use of banned substances, and, on at least one occasion, threatened to remove a rider if he did not use PEDs to prepare for races. He used in-race drug couriers, charted private jets to undertake blood extractions, and arranged cross-border transportation of extracted blood. He sought to discredit people who suggested that he doped by initiating litigation, including against team soigneur (masseuse) Emma O’Reilly and journalist David Walsh.
“No similar body of evidence exists with respect to any of Armstrong’s former teammates. Accordingly, Armstrong cannot satisfy even the first requirement of selective prosecution that he is similarly situated to other team riders.”
The government also sued Bruyneel and Tailwind Sports, the cycling team’s owner. But Armstrong is the lone active defendant in the government’s case. Tailwind dissolved in 2007, and Bruyneel is from Belgium. They did not respond to the suit, leading a court clerk to declare them to be in default.
The government filed this document as part of the case’s motions in limine, which are attempts by both sides to exclude certain evidence and witnesses from the trial. In this case, the government wants a judge to forbid Armstrong’s attorneys from making reference to the notion that Armstrong is facing selective prosecution.
“In an effort to avoid liability for his fraud, Defendant Lance Armstrong has asserted that the United States is `selectively prosecuting’ him as he is the only USPS Cycling Team rider named in this case,” the government wrote the court. “The issue specifically involved in this False Claims Act matter, however, is Armstrong’s conduct, not the other riders’, and the effect that his own cheating, lies and intimidation of others had upon the USPS’ decision to sponsor the team and the damages caused to the USPS by Armstrong’s misconduct.”
The government filed suit against Armstrong in 2013, shortly after Armstrong confessed to extensive doping while on the USPS team. The case originated in 2010, when Armstrong’s teammate, Floyd Landis, filed a complaint against Armstrong under seal as a government whistleblower.
The government said Armstrong cannot show that he is “similarly situated” to other USPS riders.
“Furthermore, to protect and serve the United States’ interests under the False Claims Act, the Department of Justice is granted broad discretion in its decisions on how to prosecute these claims against persons who violate the Act, and the only limit upon that authority is that imposed by the Constitution,” the government states.