The nature — and even existence — of the reported federal investigation into Floyd Landis’ claims against Lance Armstrong and others is unknown. But a San Francisco lawyer who specializes in bringing fraud suits against government contractors says Landis could be acting as a whistleblower for a False Claims Act suit.
If that’s the case, Landis could be protected from some prosecution and could receive up to 30 percent of any judgment from a successful claim based on his information. And the judgment could be huge: a person found to have broken the False Claims Act is liable for a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000 and three times the actual damages.
So far no government official has confirmed publicly that the Landis claims are being investigated, although the New York Times cites two sources anonymously who confirmed the investigation. Armstrong and his current RadioShack team have denied all of Landis’ claims. On Wednesday the team issued a statement on its Web site saying that Armstrong expected to be vindicated by any investigation.
The USPS paid an estimated $8 million and $10 million a year to the cycling team’s management company during the Post Office’s four years’ involvement with the team. Armstrong was part owner of the management company, Tailwind Sports, which was based in San Francisco. The company was founded by well-known investor Thomas Weisel.
A False Claims Act prosecution would have to establish that the team’s management was aware that some athletes on the team doped while sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service. Attorney Paul D. Scott said that could be tantamount to defrauding the federal government.
“Presumably the purpose of sponsorship is for the athletes to reflect well on the sponsor. If it turns out there was illegal drug use and that was known to the company at the time, and the company represented that its athletes were clean, that would be fraud against the government,” said Scott, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney.
Complaints made under the False Claims Act are sealed while they are being investigated.