A federal judge has allowed a civil lawsuit brought by the U.S. government against disgraced former pro cyclist Lance Armstrong to proceed, tossing aside Armstrong's arguments that the case should be dismissed.
The Justice Department alleges in the lawsuit, made under the False Claims Act, that Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner, defrauded the government by doping while sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service. The Justice Department declined to comment Tuesday.
From 2000 to 2004, the Postal Service paid Armstrong's team, the aptly named U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, a little more than $32 million, most of which went to Armstrong because he was the team's star rider, according to court filings.
But the government is seeking damages nearing $100 million, about three times what USPS paid in sponsorships to the Postal Service Team during periods that fall within the False Claims Act's statute of limitations.
Floyd Landis, a former teammate of Armstrong's, initially filed the suit in 2010, two years before Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from professional cycling for life. Landis could receive as much as 25 percent of any potential damages
The Postal Service had previously paid the team about $10 million in a five-year sponsorship starting in 1995. The government isn't seeking repayment for those funds.
The government's case claims that Armstrong, his team's owner — Tailwind Sports Corp. — and the team's sporting director, Johan Bruyneel, violated the False Claims Act by taking payments from the Postal Service while "actively concealing the team's violations of the agreements' anti-doping provisions."
Armstrong has argued that the government received substantial value from the sponsorship, citing in part the large chunks of broadcast coverage the team got while bearing Postal Service logos.
Armstrong's attorneys didn't immediately return requests for comment, but one of his lawyers, Elliot Peters, told The Wall Street Journal: "There is no actual evidence of any quantifiable financial harm to the government."
Either way, the wording in the ruling, filed Monday by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, suggests that the Postal Service team's success and the positive media exposure it provided may pose difficulties in winning full damages, primarily because it's hard to determine market value for "personal or professional services like those provided by the bicycle team."
The government, Cooper wrote, "is not entitled to the return of all of its money, tripled no less, simply because it never would have sponsored a 'doping' team."