On Tuesday, Lance Armstrong and his lawyers filed arguments in the $120 million whistleblower lawsuit charging that Armstrong defrauded the sponsor of the team for which he rode, the U.S. Postal Service, by virtue of his various performance enhancements. Wall Street Journal reporter Reed Albergotti has been writing about Armstrong’s battles in court and he joined Bill Littlefield on this week’s Only A Game.
BL: In their rebuke to the charges, Armstrong and his lawyers are saying that his sponsor the U.S. Postal Service should have known he was doping even though he was loudly denying it and suing the people who claimed he was doping. Do they really expect a dismissal of the charges based on that logic?
RA: You know, it’s a legal argument with a lot of chutzpah, I would say. But, I think it’s actually a pretty good argument, and there are really good lawyers on the case in John Keker and Elliot Peters, who are both top-notch white-collar defense lawyers. And really what they’re saying is that the Postal Service renewed its contract at the end of 2000. And at the end of 2000, the French police were actually in the middle of a highly-publicized investigation. Some reporters had followed the doctors on the [United States] Postal team 50 miles away from the race during the Tour de France, and actually dumped a bag full of performance-enhancing drugs, and they caught the whole thing on camera. So you had that going on. Armstrong had also tested positive the year before for corticosteroids, which was a banned substance. But he produced a back-dated prescription for the drug that he said he was using for a saddle sore. So there were all of these things swirling around. And what they’re saying is ‘look if the Postal Service really had concerns about this they could have just not renewed the contract.’ And even then, years later as more allegations piled on, they could have investigated and brought this lawsuit many years ago.
BL: One of the people named in the lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2010 by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis, is Thomas Weisel, the team’s owner. His defense seems to me especially convoluted. Can you take us through that?
RA: You know, it’s funny. Yeah, Weisel’s defense is kind of the opposite. He’s saying, ‘Yeah, I was the team owner, and I was the money behind the operation. But I didn’t really know what was going on. There’s no proof that I knew anything about the doping on the team.’ So you have these two arguments, now you mentioned that Weisel’s argument is convoluted. It is because he also makes the same point in his motion to dismiss, saying this stuff was all over the news, so the Postal Service could have just pulled out.
BL: But hasn’t Mr. Weisel also said, ‘And by the way, even if they were doping, there’s nothing wrong with it?’
RA: Yeah, exactly. He made this point that the Postal Service didn’t really have this expectation that the riders wouldn’t dope.
BL: I’m sorry for laughing, but holy cow!
RA: It’s pretty extraordinary, but this is a window into our justice system. When you’re making a motion to dismiss, you can make some arguments that may sound pretty outrageous to the outside world.
BL: Do you have any sense of how this suit will be resolved?
RA: In September, the government and Floyd Landis will file their responses to these motions. And then in January, there will be a conference where they’ll talk about scheduling, and they may schedule a trial date around that time. So you’re talking at least another year before there’s any chance to settle or this thing goes to trial. Now if this does go to trial, it’ll be a pretty interesting one to follow.