WASHINGTON - The Justice Department joined a lawsuit Friday against disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong that alleges the former seven-time Tour de France champion concealed his use of performance-enhancing drugs and defrauded his longtime sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service.
The lawsuit alleges that riders on the postal service-sponsored team, including Armstrong, knowingly violated their postal service agreements by regularly using banned substances and methods to enhance their performance.
"Lance Armstrong and his cycling team took more than $30 million from the U.S. Postal Service based on their contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules - including the rules against doping," said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, whose office is handling the case. "The Postal Service has now seen its sponsorship unfairly associated with what has been described as 'the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.'"
In this July 25, 2004 file photo, U.S. Postal Service cycling team leader and 2004 Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, and teammate George Hincapie, right, ride the victory lap on Champs Elysees boulevard in Paris, France. Lawyers for Armstrong say the Justice Department has joined a lawsuit against the cyclist.
In recent weeks, settlement discussions had been under way between the Justice Department and Armstrong's lawyers. A person familiar with the negotiations said Friday the two sides are tens of millions of dollars apart on how much Armstrong should pay to settle the case. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak on the record about the private talks.
From 1996 through 2004, the postal service sponsored a professional cycling team run by Tailwind Sports Corp., and Armstrong was the lead rider. From 1999 to 2004, he won six consecutive Tour de France titles. The suit also said Johan Bruyneel, the team's manager, knew that team members were using performance-enhancing substances and facilitated the practice.
The Justice Department notified the federal court that it is joining the lawsuit against Armstrong, Bruyneel and Tailwind and will file its formal complaint within 60 days.