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DOJ Joins Whistleblower Case Against Lance Armstrong


There is some legal news in American sports as well today. The Justice Department announced it will join a whistleblower lawsuit against Lance Armstrong. The suit was filed by one of Armstrong's former teammates on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team. And for more, I'm joined by NPR's Mike Pesca. Hey, Mike.


BLOCK: This lawsuit was filed by cyclist Floyd Landis back in 2010. Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win for doping. What does it mean now that the Justice Department is getting involved?

PESCA: Well, it greatly strengthens the case. The vast majority of these whistleblower cases that go on to win are joined by the Department of Justice. And let's go back for a second. The reason this is a federal whistleblower case is because, although Lance Armstrong admitted to doping, admitted to cheating and had a number of sponsors along the way, one of his sponsors was United States Postal Service.

And this lawsuit, which was brought by Landis, said that he saw firsthand all the doping that was going on, is essentially claiming that the U.S. government, the Post Office is a quasi government agency, was defrauded out of money. The government by law, if they win, would get to keep some money, which I guess this means we all get to keep some money. And Floyd Landis stands to get a percentage of the amount of money at stake. You know, Lance Armstrong's contract with the Postal Service was worth tens of millions of dollars.

BLOCK: Well, if you look at the record of the federal government as it's pursued these steroid cases, it hasn't been exactly stellar. Is there any reason to think that this one will come out better?

PESCA: Well, that exact objection, that's what Travis Tygart, who's the president of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, put in a letter to Eric Holder that the site Velonews got a hold of. So, arguing to the Attorney General Travis Tygart, acknowledged it's understandable that the government would have some reluctance to spend public dollars in another sports case. He's obviously talking about the Barry Bonds prosecution, which did not go well for the government; the Roger Clemens prosecution, which totally failed in terms of getting a conviction.

But as Tygart says, the essential fact of doping is no longer an issue in this case. And while the federal government dropped its case against Armstrong, its criminal case, Tygart's arguing that Lance Armstrong himself is admitting to doping. We're not arguing a did he or didn't he issue.

BLOCK: Any reaction to this news, Mike, from Armstrong's camp?

PESCA: Yeah. Yeah, Robert Luskin, who's his lawyer, said something. I think it's a pretty interesting argument. He is, like Tygart said, not disputing if he doped but he said the Postal Service's own studies show that the service benefitted tremendously from its sponsorship. He's not saying it didn't happen. The Armstrong camp is saying there was really no harm. The Post Office got $100 million in benefits in terms of, you know, sponsorship and name recognition. I guess we all bought a lot of stamps during that time.

BLOCK: So they're saying there's no fraud there.

PESCA: Well, they're saying that you have to cause - you have to show harm.

BLOCK: Yeah.

PESCA: And there was no harm.

BLOCK: Mike, one last thing before I let you go. There is a big moment for women in sports coming up this weekend. For the first time, a woman, Danica Patrick, will race in the pole position in the Daytona 500. What's the significance of that?

Well, the pole position has never been won by a woman. That means she was the fastest in qualifying. Now I have to say, due to the nature of NASCAR, sitting in the pole position does not correlate necessarily or historically with winning. The last time the pole position won the flag - won the checkered flag was the year 2000. It's just because of the nature of NASCAR. All the cars go exactly as fast and there's a lot of randomness.

PESCA: So it's a great accomplishment. If she can win, that would be unbelievably historic. We should note, Danica Patrick is currently 40 to 1 to win the race in Las Vegas, so I guess the experts aren't thinking that she's going to win.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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