Lance Armstrong urges judge to dismiss US lawsuit
WASHINGTON (AP) — Cyclist Lance Armstrong urged a U.S. judge to dismiss a Justice Department lawsuit against him, arguing that the Postal Service got its money’s worth out of its sponsorship deal with his team and that the claims are barred by the statute of limitations.
The government claims that Armstrong violated his contract with the Postal Service and was “unjustly enriched” while cheating to win the Tour de France. That came following Armstrong’s admission in January to using performance-enhancing drugs after years of denials. Armstrong now admits using steroids, blood boosters and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs and measures to win.
In the filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, lawyers for Armstrong said the Postal Service, which sponsored Armstrong’s cycling team, got exactly what it bargained for, including tens of millions of dollars’ worth of publicity, exposure to more than 30 million spectators at international cycling events and hundreds of hours of television coverage
The Justice Department this year joined former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis’ whistle-blower lawsuit against the disgraced cyclist. Under the False Claims Act, whistle-blowers can share with the government in any recovery of money based upon their disclosures.
The new filing points out that the U.S. lawsuit says that in the weeks preceding the 2000 agreement between the Postal Service and Armstrong’s team, there were reports that French authorities had begun looking into allegations of doping by the team.
“Although the government now pretends to be aggrieved by these allegations, its actions at the time are far more telling,” Armstrong’s lawyers write. “Did it immediately fire the Postal Service Team? Did it suspend the team pending an investigation? Did it refer the matter to its phalanx of lawyers and investigators at the Department of Justice for review? It did not. Rather than exercise its right to terminate the sponsorship agreement, it instead renewed its contract to sponsor the team.”
That’s because Armstrong had recently won the 2000 Tour de France, and the government “wanted a winner and all the publicity, exposure and acclaim that goes along with being his sponsor,” the lawyers argue. “That was more than a decade ago. It is now far too late for the government to revisit its choice to reap the benefits of sponsorship rather than investigate allegations of doping.”
But the government’s lawsuit said that for years, team officials assured the Postal Service that the team wasn’t doping. The government also noted that the contract with the Postal Service required riders to follow the rules of cycling, which included bans on performance-enhancing drugs and methods.
The Postal Service paid about $40 million to be the title sponsor of Armstrong’s teams from 1998 to 2004 — about $18 million of which went to Armstrong, according to the government’s complaint, which asked for triple damages that are determined at trial.
Previous studies done for the Postal Service concluded it reaped at least $139 million in worldwide brand exposure in four years.
Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer contributed.