Lance Armstrong. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON
Lance Armstrong. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Washington — A federal judge cleared the way on Monday for a US government lawsuit that is seeking nearly $100m in damages from former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong to go to trial, court papers show.

The US Justice Department has accused Armstrong of defrauding the government by accepting millions of dollars in sponsorship money from the US Postal Service (USPS) as he led the team to a string of Tour de France victories while doping.

Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour titles and banned for life from the sport in 2012 by the US Anti-Doping Agency after it accused him in a report of having engineered one of the most sophisticated doping schemes in sports.

Nicole Navas, a justice department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Eliot Peters, an attorney for Armstrong, did not respond to a request for comment.

Armstrong, who had long denied using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), admitted to doping in January 2013.

Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, originally brought the lawsuit in 2010 under a federal law, the False Claims Act, that lets whistle-blowers pursue fraud cases on behalf of the government, and obtain rewards if successful. The justice department joined the case in February 2013.

Armstrong, who contends that the benefits for the USPS outweighed the sponsorship costs, sought to have the case decided by summary judgment in April 2016.

"Because the government has offered evidence that Armstrong withheld information about the team’s doping and use of PEDs and that the anti-doping provisions of the sponsorship agreements were material to USPS’s decision to continue the sponsorship and make payments under the agreements, the court must deny Armstrong’s motion for summary judgment on this issue," Judge Christopher Cooper of the US District Court for the District of Columbia wrote in a 37-page ruling on Monday.

The USPS paid about $32.3m to Armstrong’s cycling team, the now-defunct Tailwind Sports Corp, from 2000 to 2004, looking to capitalise on Armstrong’s Tour de France victories, as well as his "compelling personal story", Cooper said in his ruling.

The government has calculated damages amounted to three times this amount.

Landis stands to gain up to 25% of whatever sum the government recovers.

Paul Scott, an attorney for Landis, said: "We look forward to the day soon when we can put this case before the jury at long last."

Reuters

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