WASHINGTON D.C. (AFP) — The U.S. Justice Department filed a formal complaint Tuesday against Lance Armstrong, saying the doping-disgraced cyclist and team owners defrauded the U.S. Postal Service of sponsorship money.
The government, which said in February that it would join a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis in 2010, says the Postal Service spent about $40 million in sponsor money and gave Armstrong $17 million.
Armstrong admitted in January that he took performance enhancing drugs when he won the Tour de France seven times. Cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, stripped him of the crowns based on a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation that uncovered an organized doping conspiracy lasting more than a decade.
That prompted the U.S. government’s involvement in the fraud case, and it now seeks triple damages in a jury trial, according to the complaint, as detailed by NBC News and the Austin American-Statesman, Armstrong’s hometown newspaper.
“Because the defendants’ misconduct undermined the value of the sponsorship to the USPS, the United States suffered damages in that it did not receive the value of the services for which it bargained,” the newspaper quoted the complaint as saying.
The elaborate scheme to evade doping detection uncovered by USADA was cited in the complaint, which said Armstrong’s team manager, Johan Bruyneel, knowingly took part in a doping program in violation of their sponsorship contract.
“Riders on the USPS-sponsored team, including Armstrong, knowingly caused material violations of the sponsorship agreements by regularly and systematically employing banned substances and methods to enhance their performance,” the complaint claimed, according to NBC.
“Defendants were unjustly enriched to the extent of the payments and other benefits they received from the USPS, either directly or indirectly.”
Elliot Peters, Armstrong’s attorney, disputed whether the USPS suffered any damage as a result of its 1998-2004 sponsorship of the team.
“The DOJ’s complaint against Lance Armstrong is opportunistic and insincere,” Peters said in a statement sent to AFP. “The U.S. Postal Service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship of the cycling team. Its own studies repeatedly and conclusively prove this. The USPS was never the victim of fraud.
“Lance Armstrong rode his heart out for the USPS team and gave the brand tremendous exposure during the sponsorship years.”
Studies commissioned by the Postal Service said the team generated about $100 million in exposure and brand awareness for the Postal Service, but how that brand might be tarnished in the wake of the doping revelations has not been studied.