Report: U.S. government to add to Armstrong's problems

Lance Armstrong could face legal action from the Justice Department over a False Claims Act lawsuit, as South Australia also seeks damages from the disgraced cyclist.

WASHINGTON — An attorney familiar with cyclist Lance Armstrong's legal problems says the Justice Department is highly likely to join a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Armstrong by former teammate Floyd Landis.

The False Claims Act lawsuit could result in Armstrong paying a substantial amount of money to the U.S. government. The deadline for the department to join the case is Thursday, though the department could seek an extension if necessary.

According to the attorney, who works outside the government, the lawsuit alleges that Armstrong defrauded the U.S. government based on his years of denying use of performance-enhancing drugs. The U.S. Postal Service was a longtime sponsor of Armstrong's racing career.

The attorney spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak on the record about the matter.

In a separate move, the government of the state of South Australia said Tuesday it will seek damages or compensation from Armstrong after his reported confession to Oprah Winfrey that he doped during his career.

South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill said the state would seek the repayment of several million dollars in appearance fees paid to Armstrong for competing in the Tour Down Under cycle race in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Weatherill said reports Armstrong admitted doping during a recorded interview with Winfrey, due to be broadcast in the United States on Thursday, changed the government's view on its entitlement to compensation.

He said Armstrong "has deceived the cycling community around the world" by repeatedly denying he used performance-enhancing drugs during a career in which he won the Tour de France seven times.

"We'd be more than happy for Mr. Armstrong to make any repayment of monies to us," Weatherill said.

Weatherill refused to say how much the South Australian state government paid to Armstrong to secure his participation in the ProTour race for three-straight years. The figure has been placed as high as $9 million over three years, but Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur has disputed that figure.

Armstrong chose the Australian cycle tour, the first event of the annual ProTour, to make his return to professional cycling in 2009 after a two-year retirement. He also made the six-stage road race his last professional race before his final retirement in 2011.

The South Australian government paid appearance fees to Armstrong to build the profile of the race and promote tourism. That effort was hugely successful and in each of the years Armstrong competed, hundreds of thousands watched the race live and millions more saw it on television.

Armstrong's presence increased spectator attendance at the 2009 race by more than 212,000 and doubled the number of media accredited to cover the event.

Turtur this week said he doubted that fallout from Armstrong's interview with Winfrey would damage this year's Tour Down Under. Armstrong's former team, RadioShack-Leopard Trek, is among the teams contesting the race which starts with a criterium prologue on Sunday.

"We've got all these exciting young athletes and in respect to them, we need to show we appreciate what they're doing," he said.

Armstrong has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and for a decade he strenuously denied doping and resorted to lawsuits to protect his reputation.

The publication of a damning 1,000-page report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which placed Armstrong at the center of what it called one of the most sophisticated doping operations in sports, has led to counter-suits against the rider.

Those who had been successfully sued by Armstrong, including Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, are now seeking repayment of the damages they were forced to pay. Others are seeking repayment of sponsorships and prize money paid during Armstrong's career as the world's most famous professional cyclist.

 

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