Armstrong/US Postal fraud case looks likely to go ahead, with judge to issue ruling on matter within thirty days
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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Armstrong/US Postal fraud case looks likely to go ahead, with judge to issue ruling on matter within thirty days

by Shane Stokes at 8:09 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Judge indicates case against some of the defendants might be dismissed

Floyd Landis Lance armstrongEfforts by Lance Armstrong’s lawyers to try to block a lawsuit taken by Floyd Landis and the US Government under the False Claims Act appear not to have been successful, with a federal judge indicating yesterday that the case will likely go ahead.

Judge Robert L. Wilkins heard arguments in a Washington court and said that while he might dismiss some of the defendants from the case, he doubted that he would do so for all of them. That means that some of those accused will have to defend themselves in a trial which could, if lost, could cost them dearly.

The defendants include Armstrong, former team manager Johan Bruyneel and those who were part of the management company Tailwind Sports, including principal owner Thomas Weisel, a wealthy financier.

Former Armstrong team-mate Landis initiated a Qui Tam whistleblower suit in 2010, the same year that he went on record about his doping and that of Lance Armstrong and others on the US Postal Service team.

He was later joined in that action by the US government. They are alleging fraud on the part of the former multiple Tour de France winner and his US Postal Service team, which used banned substances despite signing sponsorship agreements undertaking to compete clean.

If Landis and the US government are successful in proving that fraud was committed, Armstrong and others will be liable to pay out triple damages, with estimates stating that this could be over 100 million dollars. A total of 40 million dollars in backing was paid to the team between 1998 and 2004.

Yesterday’s hearing saw Armstrong’s lawyers attempt to get the case thrown out on the basis of the statute of limitations. AP points out that under the False Claims Act, the government must either file a suit within six years of a violation or within three years of when the facts “are known or reasonably should have been known” by the responsible U.S. official.

The second condition appears to have been fulfilled, with government prosecutors saying that they became aware of the facts when Landis filed his lawsuit in June 2010.

Before and after that point, Armstrong and others insisted repeatedly that the Texan had never doped, and that US Postal was a clean team.

Armstrong lawyer Elliot Peters spoke yesterday, seeking to shift the blame onto the Postal Service. Despite the fact that Armstrong was taking legal cases against people suggesting he doped and lied under oath in 2005, Peters claimed that the government should have been aware of the fraud when the team contract was renewed in 2000. He said that as French authorities had begun an investigation into allegations that the team was doping.

However that French investigation failed to turn up any proof.

“They did absolutely nothing to investigate,” Peters claimed, suggesting that the Postal Service should have questioned Armstrong’s team members at the time.

This claim was rubbished by the Justice Department lawyer Robert Chandler. He pointed out that Armstrong had lied repeatedly about his doping use, yet now blames others for not spotting his fraud. “Incredibly, he now says the government should have seen through that,” he said.

He also pointed out that as a top sportsman, that Armstrong was bound to be accused by someone of doping, and so that in itself wasn’t enough to cause the government to launch an investigation.

It is not yet clear if Landis’ lawyers were successful in evoking a legal clause called the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, which allows for the statute of limitations to be overturned altogether in times of military hostilities.

The argument is based on the fact that the US was at war in Afghanistan when the alleged fraud was committed; if this is successful, it means that the claims could be applied as early as from 1998, thus increasing the amount Armstrong and others would have to pay out if they lose the Qui Tam case.

The hearing yesterday lasted almost three hours. Judge Wilkins said afterwards that he’d issue a ruling within thirty days, after which it will become clear if a full trial will take place.

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