Court docs: Why 'unique' Lance Armstrong is lone target of DOJ's $100M fraud suit

Attorneys for the DOJ said they are pursuing Armstrong alone because he "was unique" as the unquestioned leader of the USPS riding team.

When Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven straight years, he was the unquestioned leader of the U.S. cycling team sponsored by the United States Postal Service. Since Armstrong has been stripped of his wins because of doping violations, the U.S. government wants some of its money back.

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice explained Monday why they have singled Armstrong out in a civil fraud lawsuit filed in federal court.

"Armstrong was unique," DOJ lawyers wrote in the suit, acquired by Omnisport. "It is undisputed that Armstrong was the 'lead rider' for the team. He was by far the highest paid rider. For example, in 2001, he was paid $4 million, while some other riders were paid between $30,000 and $37,000. Propelling Armstrong to win the Tour de France each year was the team's singular focus. He wielded an 'iron fist' and, together with the manager Johan Bruyneel, ran the team as a `dictatorship.'"

The USPS paid $32.3 million to sponsor the U.S. cycling team from 2000 to 2004 and says the Armstrong-led team violated its sponsorship contract because Armstrong was using performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions.

Under the False Claims Act, the government could get its money back times three — nearly $100 million — if the plaintiffs win.

"The issue specifically involved in this False Claims Act matter, however, is Armstrong's conduct, not the other riders', and the effect that his own cheating, lies and intimidation of others had upon the USPS' decision to sponsor the team and the damages caused to the USPS by Armstrong's misconduct," the court filing said.

Armstrong's attorneys don't believe he should be singled out because of the rampant doping in cycling during that time period. But the government is prepared for that defense.

"He had extensive input into rider and staff composition, (and) decided, with Bruyneel, the races the team raced in and the riders who would compete and encouraged other team riders to use PEDs," the government attorneys wrote. "He monitored his teammates' use of banned substances, and, on at least one occasion, threatened to remove a rider if he did not use PEDs to prepare for races. He used in-race drug couriers, charted private jets to undertake blood extractions, and arranged cross-border transportation of extracted blood. He sought to discredit people who suggested that he doped by initiating litigation, including against team soigneur (masseuse) Emma O'Reilly and journalist David Walsh.

"No similar body of evidence exists with respect to any of Armstrong's former teammates. Accordingly, Armstrong cannot satisfy even the first requirement of selective prosecution that he is similarly situated to other team riders."

The case, which will be heard in Washington, D.C., has a trial date scheduled for November.

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