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Armstrong, Landis, and the U.S. government head to court

By Caley Fretz • Published
The Lance Armstrong legal team filed new papers in court on Sept. 25, offering a glimpse of potential defenses the Texan may use in a False Claims Act suit. Photo: Mark Gunter | AFP

Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, and the U.S. government await a ruling that could end up costing Armstrong $100 million or nothing at all.

The parties came before U.S. District Court judge Christopher Cooper on Wednesday to argue for and against a summary dismissal in the case of Landis vs. Tailwind Sports Corporation, which the U.S. government joined in February 2013. Armstrong’s legal team sought to have the case thrown out, or at least trimmed heavily, while the government sought to push it forward.

Armstrong was not obligated to attend but made the trip to Washington, D.C. anyway. He was not available for comment Wednesday night.

Landis did not attend the hearing and was represented by his attorney, Paul Scott.

The core of each side’s argument rests on the value of the U.S. Postal Services’s sponsorship of Armstrong and his team as the Texan raced to four Tour de France victories. The government contends that Armstrong defrauded the Postal Service by portraying his victories as clean prior to his 2013 doping admission.

The government is seeking triple damages on $32.3 million, the total spent by the U.S. Postal Service on its cycling sponsorship, under the False Claims Act.

Armstrong’s lawyers, including his longtime attorney Sharif Jacob, argued that the Postal Service received a healthy return on its investment despite Armstrong’s doping admission and was therefore not the victim of fraud.

The two sides presented their rudimentary, informal arguments on the phone with Judge Cooper in February of this year for a post-discovery status conference, the transcript of which is publicly available.

Armstrong attorney Elliot Peters explained the basics of his side’s case at the time.

“One issue that we will be moving on is that there are no damages suffered by the government other than statutory damages, and that’s going to be based on what we believe is a substantial quantity of undisputed evidence during the period of the sponsorship of the cycling team showing the nature and extent of the value delivered to the Postal Service by the sponsorship,” Peters said.

Government attorney Robert Chandler disputed this argument, making the case that the Postal Service was significantly damaged by Armstrong’s doping.

“In our view, the Postal Service was promised a clean cycling team and everything that went along with that, and that’s not what it got. And so, you know, in many ways this case isn’t terribly different from any other case where the government is the recipient of nonperforming goods or services,” Chandler said in the February call.

Refined and expanded versions of those arguments appeared again on Wednesday, when both sides, as well as Scott, sought to either push the case forward or see it killed.

The judge could decide to throw out the case, move it forward intact, or continue toward a trial but grant the Armstrong team’s request to separate the case from the False Claims Act, which provides for the triple damages that push Armstrong’s potential losses up near $100 million. He would then likely face civil fines of less than $500,000.

Which side prevailed is not yet known. In a case that has already stretched nearly four years, Judge Cooper’s decision will take a few more weeks. Any potential trial is not expected until 2017.

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