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Justice Department responds sharply to Armstrong whistleblower motion

DOJ takes aim at Armstrong defense in response to motion to dismiss the $120 million suit

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The U.S. Department of Justice outlined its case against Lance Armstrong late Monday night, arguing that its $120 million whistleblower suit against the disgraced former world champion should be allowed to persist. Armstrong’s attorneys had previously asked for its dismissal.

The sharply worded filing with district judge Richard L. Wilkins took aim at Armstrong’s defense, chiefly that the United States Postal Service should have known that its star was using performance-enhancing drugs all along, and that it got what it paid for in Armstrong, a sporting and commercial beacon for years.

The Justice Department’s response to Armstrong’s motion to dismiss says that even if the United States Postal Service, the team’s sponsor, should have known Armstrong was using PEDs, the Department of Justice didn’t know, and that’s what matters. The filing also asserts that Armstrong made false statements to conceal doping, and that he is liable under the reverse false claims provision.

“The truth of Armstrong’s deception remained hidden for years. In an effort to hold onto his money and apparent Tour victories, Armstrong lied about his use of banned substances repeatedly and emphatically, and threatened or sued anyone who attempted to expose him. And until recently, his extensive cover-up was successful. Armstrong duped his friends, sponsors, anti-doping officials, most of the international cycling community, and most of the American public. Indeed, by Armstrong’s own account, even his family thought he was clean,” the DOJ wrote in its response to Armstrong.

“Now that he is being called to account for the damage he caused, Armstrong contends that his deceit should have been clear to everyone all along. In particular, he argues that the USPS should have known he was cheating as early as 2000 and, therefore, the Government may no longer seek to recover for the losses it suffered as a result of his lies. But the Postal Service, like millions of others, cannot be faulted for having been deceived by Armstrong.”

Armstrong’s attorneys asked that the whistleblower suit, originally filed by former teammate Floyd Landis in 2010 and later joined by the U.S. Department of Justice last February, be dismissed in July.

The tone the defense struck then was one of irreverence. “Although the government now pretends to be aggrieved by these allegations, its actions at the time are far more telling,” Armstrong’s filing in July stated. “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… The rationale behind the government’s decision is obvious. Armstrong had recently won the 2000 Tour de France. The government wanted a winner and all the publicity, exposure, and acclaim that goes along with being his sponsor. It got exactly what it bargained for.”

The U.S. government is suing Armstrong on behalf of the Postal Service, claiming that the now-stripped Tour winner committed fraud by using PEDs and lying about it. The original suit also named Thomas Weisel, who owned the team, Johan Bruyneel, the manager, Bill Stapleton, Armstrong’s agent, and others. The DOJ joined the suit in February, but didn’t name Stapleton or Weisel as defendants.

Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times, from 1999-2005, but was later stripped of his wins after he admitted to taking PEDS on the heels of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that made further denials all but impossible.

The government has taken umbrage with the assertion that the Postal Service should have known better.

“Armstrong claims that ‘the government wanted a winner and all the publicity, exposure and acclaim that goes along with being his sponsor.’ He further claims that the Government ‘got exactly what it bargained for.’ But the Government did not get a ‘winner,’” wrote the DOJ in its response. “On the contrary, it got a fraud, and all of the publicity and exposure that goes along with having sponsored a fraud. That is decidedly not what the Government bargained for. The United States should have an opportunity to recover damages for the money that it paid in reliance on Armstrong’s many lies, and we therefore respectfully request that the Court deny Armstrong’s motion to dismiss the Government’s complaint.”

The conflicting motions will be argued in federal court next month, and a judge will decide if the case is to move forward.

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