In 2013, cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using banned substances to win his record seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. In 2012, an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency found that Armstrong and a number of his teammates had used the substances. Unfortunately, Armstrong was representing the U.S. Postal Service during six of his victorious tours, and that led a teammate to blow the whistle under the federal False Claims Act, claiming that Armstrong’s doping was a fraud on the government.
Armstrong has just agreed to settle the fraud allegations for $5 million. The extent of the harm suffered by the Postal Service was a looming issue in the case. Armstrong and his team received $32.3 million in sponsorship money from the USPS, and the agency had once said the sponsorship had been a marketing boon. Armstrong’s attorneys had planned to argue that the USPS suffered no harm from the doping.
If Armstrong had lost that argument, however, he could have been ordered to pay triple damages. If the government claimed the only damage was the $32.3 million in sponsorship money alone, it could have meant damages nearing $100 million.
Jury selection had been scheduled to begin in about two weeks.
The whistleblower was Floyd Landis, a teammate of Armstrong who was also found to have used banned substances and was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title. He was the original plaintiff in the case, which the government joined after Armstrong admitted his doping in 2013.
For his efforts, Landis will receive a $1.1 million award, which is based on a percentage of the $5 million settlement. He will also receive $1.65 million to cover his legal costs.
In a statement, Armstrong said he believes the False Claims Act suit was “without merit and unfair,” but that he has committed to taking full responsibility for his actions. Landis said that public opinion was not always on his side but that he believes blowing the whistle was the right thing to do.
“No one is above the law,” commented an acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division. “A competitor who intentionally uses illegal P.E.D.s not only deceives fellow competitors and fans, but also sponsors, who help make sporting competitions possible. This settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”
If you are in a position to shed light on fraud, waste or abuse against the government, you should consider blowing the whistle. You should first contact an attorney for whistleblowers, however, to build a strong case, prevent retaliation and ensure you receive any monetary awards you are eligible for.