Updated at: 09/24/2013 5:35 PM
By JIM VERTUNO
(AP) AUSTIN, Texas - Justice Department lawyers urged a federal judge to allow the government’s fraud lawsuit against Lance Armstrong to continue, arguing the U.S. Postal Service was tainted by its sponsorship of his team while he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France.
The Postal Service, which insists it didn’t know about a team drug regimen that was exposed last year by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, is permanently linked to what the government lawyers called "the greatest fraud in the history of professional sports" in court records filed Monday night.
Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis first sued Armstrong in 2010 under the False Claims Act, which allows whistle-blowers to get a share of any money recovered based on their disclosures. The Justice Department joined the lawsuit in February, announcing it would seek at least the $40 million the Postal Service paid to Armstrong’s team and additional damages that could push the total closer to $120 million.
The government claims Armstrong violated his contract with the Postal Service and was "unjustly enriched" while cheating to win the Tour de France. Six of his seven titles came under Postal Service sponsorship.
Armstrong has urged the court to dismiss the case, arguing the government was aware of doping rumors surrounding his teams and could have canceled the contracts. Armstrong finally confessed in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in January.
A federal judge has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 18 in Washington on whether to let the case proceed.
Armstrong argues the sponsorship gave the Postal Service exactly what it paid for: Tens of millions of dollars’ worth of publicity, exposure to more than 30 million spectators at international cycling events and hundreds of hours of television coverage.
The Justice Department countered Monday that the Postal Service would have canceled the deals if it knew about the cheating. Justice Department lawyers also insisted the statute of limitations has not expired on pursuing a lawsuit over contracts that were signed in 1995 and 2000.
Armstrong previously tried to negotiate a settlement, but those talks fell through before the government announced it would join the Landis lawsuit. Settlement talks could resume as the case proceeds to trial.
Also in Monday’s filings, Landis’ attorneys sought to bring financier Thomas Weisel further into the lawsuit. They filed a sworn statement from a witness who said Weisel helped Armstrong concoct a backdated prescription to escape a failed drug test in the 1999 Tour de France. Weisel was principal owner of Armstrong’s team at the time.
So far, the federal government has not joined the portion of Landis’ lawsuit against Weisel, who has asked the court to dismiss it. Part of Weisel’s defense is that he was not named in the 1,000-page USADA report released last year.
But Landis’ attorneys submitted Monday a sworn statement by former team masseuse Emma O’Reilly. In it, she names Weisel as one of the architects of the backdated prescription scheme. Weisel’s name had been redacted from the version of the affidavit used in the USADA report.
Landis attorney Paul Scott declined comment. A message was left Tuesday seeking comment from a lawyer for Weisel.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)