Source: Floyd Landis files lawsuit

Updated: September 4, 2010, 8:49 PM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Floyd Landis, who has accused former teammate and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong of doping while riding for the U.S. Postal Service team, has filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit against Armstrong and team officials that is separate from an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Landis, contacted by ESPN.com, would not confirm or deny his role in the case, but another source with direct knowledge of the case said he was the sole plaintiff.

The 34-year-old Landis would say only that "My motives remain what they've been since I decided to come clean. It's a long process of trying to right a wrong and clear my conscience of each and every bad decision I made in my cycling career.''

The U.S. Justice Department is collecting evidence to determine whether or not to join in the lawsuit, filed under the False Claims Act. That participation could be crucial to exploring Landis' contention that Armstrong and others defrauded the U.S. Postal Service by using a portion of sponsorship funds -- more than $30 million between 2000 and 2004 -- to fund a doping program.

Over the last 25 years, the government has agreed to participate in less than a quarter of the whistleblower cases it reviews, but has a far higher winning percentage in those cases than those in which plaintiffs -- called "relators" in this specialized area of law -- proceed on their own.

Landis won the Tour de France in 2006 but had the title stripped after an arbitration panel upheld the results of his positive test for synthetic testosterone. He fought the charges vigorously, raising money from supporters, but eventually lost an appeal and served a two-year suspension.

Last May, Landis reversed years of denials and admitted he had used testosterone, EPO, human growth hormone and regular transfusions of his own blood at the height of his career, including 2002-04 when he rode for Postal. He also described management-condoned organized doping that he said included every rider on Armstrong's nine-man Tour de France teams in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and pointed the finger at several riders from other teams as well.

The lawsuit, filed late last spring, remains sealed as all such lawsuits do, a measure intended to prevent plaintiffs from being intimidated by rich or powerful defendants. It was unclear when the Justice Department would decide on whether to join in the suit. Defendants including Armstrong, team manager Johan Bruyneel, longtime agent Bill Stapleton, financier Thomas W. Weisel and numerous owner-investors in the various companies that operated the team were notified of their status last week.

If the lawsuit proceeds and Landis' side prevails, he could collect up to 30 percent of the treble damages assessed in such cases. However, in practice, the government negotiates the amount with plaintiffs after the case has run its course and they rarely collect the maximum.

Armstrong, 38, who recently rode in what he said would be his last Tour de France, has consistently denied using performance-enhancing drugs at any time since his career began in the early 1990s. He remains under contract to the RadioShack team, operated by Austin-based Capital Sports and Entertainment, a management company owned by Stapleton and several others who have been involved in running Armstrong's teams for many years.

Mark Fabiani, a spokesman for Armstrong's legal team, declared that Landis was "in this for the money. ... By his own admission, he is a serial liar, an epic cheater and a swindler who raised and took almost a million dollars from his loyal fans based on his lies. What remains a complete mystery is why the government would devote a penny of the taxpayers' money to help Floyd Landis further his vile, cheating ambitions."

Armstrong is also under scrutiny in a wider probe of doping in professional cycling led by Food and Drug Administration investigator Jeff Novitzky, who spearheaded the BALCO steroids probe. That inquiry is being supported by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles and a grand jury is currently hearing testimony and reviewing evidence in that investigation that could lead to fraud or conspiracy charges.

Whistleblower suits are civil actions with a different standard of proof, and this case could go forward even if the grand jury in California does not issue any indictments. The two cases are proceeding separately and investigators are not sharing information.

In their review of Landis' suit, officials with the Justice Department's commercial litigation branch and a Postal Service inspector have requested documents from a 2005 arbitration in which SCA Promotions, a Dallas insurance company, cited doping allegations in their refusal to pay a bonus to Armstrong. Those same documents have already been subpoenaed in the criminal investigation.

Investigators in whistle-blower cases also have subpoena power and can compel defendants and witnesses to testify or turn over documents.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed a sponsorship contract between the Postal Service and the team's owners that said "negative publicity" due to "alleged possession, use or sale of banned substances" by riders or team personnel would constitute an "event of default," as would a failure to take "action" in the event a rider violates a morals or drug clause.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press is included in this story.

Bonnie D. Ford covers Olympic sports for ESPN.com.

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