After years upon years of lies, backstabbing and mudslinging, American legend-turned-goat Lance Armstrong finally admitted to doping and a sophisticated performance-enhancing drug regimen throughout his seven Tour de France championships.
Following his nationally televised interview on Oprah, Armstrong was officially stripped of all seven titles and was dropped by all of his major sponsors.
[Perception vs. Reality: Nike cuts ties with Lance Armstrong and Livestrong]
That was when his biggest sponsor throughout the years, the United States Postal Service, really honed in. The USPS filed civil suit against Armstrong under what is called the False Claims Act. Between 1995 and 2004, the Postal Service paid a whopping $40 million to have its logo brandished across Armstrong’s chest.
Now, obviously, not only does the government agency want that money back, but it can actually be awarded as much as $120 million if it can prove its case. That is three times the original sponsorship fees paid.
However, Armstrong’s army of attorneys believes the case should be thrown out of court altogether. First, the quote, then, the rationale behind it.
“Although the government now pretends to be aggrieved by these allegations, its actions at the time are far more telling: Did it immediately fire the Postal Service Team?,” Armstrong’s motion asks. “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.”
Does this statement absolutely reek of pretension on the part of Armstrong and his team? Yes, it does, but that is neither here nor there.
There are facts that each side must prove, and they must do so in the court of law – regardless of whatever it was USPS had “bargained for.”
First, there is the issue of a statute of limitations. The False Claims Act can only be pursued legally in the first six years after a claim is falsely made. If a court of law chooses to see the USPS’s sponsorship of Armstrong as having ended in 2004, the company may be out of luck.
“It is now far too late for the government to revisit its choice to reap the benefits of sponsorship rather than investigate allegations of doping,” Armstrong’s motion argues. “The statute of limitations for a False Claims Act suit is six years and runs from the date of each claim. Floyd Landis filed this suit on June 10, 2010. Therefore, if the government’s claim was paid before June 10, 2004, any suit to recover on that claim is barred.”
However, the USPS has not brought anything to civil court on its own. Instead, what it is hoping to prove is based on payments, whistleblowers and knowledge. Fellow teammate and confessed doper Floyd Landis, as Armstrong’s above quote alludes to, filed his suit in 2010, well within the six-year window.
The government has invoices that they say proves that their final payment for the sponsorship of Armstrong was made only days before Landis filed his suit.
If that is case, then, well, the USPS may have a case. Armstrong did not officially admit to doping until his interview with Oprah. If the USPS can prove it was still blindly handing over money to who they thought was a “clean” athlete all the way up until 2010, they can still file a suit under the False Claims Act.
So, basically, returning to the “got exactly what they bargained for” quote, this becomes a case of Armstrong’s word vs. that of the USPS.
Did Armstrong “specifically” admit to doping to his sponsors in 2000? All of the anecdotal evidence points to no, which would mean he owes the mailman a giant wad of cash.
However, if he and his lawyers can prove that USPS knew all about his steroid use back in the day, but chose to continue with the sponsorship anyways, then the situation is exactly as Armstrong points out: The Postal Service took a gamble and ultimately lost.
To recap, USPS is trying to prove that Armstrong did in fact break contract, while Armstrong’s camp stands on the other side of the fence saying that the Postal Service chose to continue to honor the contract knowing fair and well what they were doing.
What we find interesting is the fact that, after a decade of denying use, Armstrong is now trying to prove that he was an admitted PED user all along – in order to save potentially $120 million in cash, of course.