Updated at 5:00 p.m.
A lawyer for Lance Armstrong today asked a Washington federal judge to dismiss the government's fraud case against the famed cyclist, arguing prosecutors failed to meet deadlines to file their claims.
U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins did not rule on the motions to dismiss filed by Armstrong and the other defendants. The judge said at the end of today's hearing he doubted he would dismiss the case in its entirety, but didn’t indicate which defendants he might be inclined to dismiss.
The U.S. Department of Justice accused Armstrong and others of making false claims while receiving millions of dollars in sponsorships from the U.S. Postal Service. Prosecutors said Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing substances violated the sponsorship agreement.
Arguing today before U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, Armstrong's lawyer, Elliot Peters of Keker & Van Nest said the government was on notice about doping allegations beginning in 2000. Under the False Claims Act, Peters said, the government couldn’t bring an action more than three years after U.S. officials—in this case, Peters said, the U.S. Postal Service—knew or should have known about the doping issue.
Despite knowing about an investigation by French authorities into the alleged doping as of 2000, Peters said the government "did absolutely nothing to investigate." The government couldn't get a suspension of the statute of limitations under the False Claims Act because they failed to do "due diligence" once they learned about the doping allegations, he said.
"The failure to lift a finger is fatal to their tolling argument," Peters said.
Wilkins asked what grounds the government would have had to sue once it learned about the investigation by French authorities. Peters said officials had a responsibility to investigate the allegations, but instead renewed the contract with the cycling team with new language giving the Postal Service an out if there was any negative publicity related to doping.
The government, which argued against dismissal of the case, said in briefs that Armstrong "carried out what was arguably the greatest fraud in the history of professional sports."
In court papers filed in September, Justice Department lawyers said the government’s fraud claims were timely filed. The government disputed Armstrong’s contention that the U.S. Postal Service was on notice as of 2000 about his use of performance enhancing drugs.
The government “had many reasons not to know about Armstrong’s doping,” DOJ’s legal team wrote, pointing to the cyclist’s “vehement public denials” and his claims that he passed “hundreds” of drug tests.
“The government did not get a ‘winner.’ On the contrary, it got a fraud, and all of the publicly and exposure that goes along with having sponsored a fraud,” wrote Darrell Valdez, and assistant U.S. attorney, and Robert Chandler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This is decidedly not what the government bargained for.”
The federal government, DOJ’s trial lawyers said, “should have an opportunity to recover damages for the money that it paid in reliance on Armstrong’s many lies.”
Wilkins said he would try to issue a decision within the next 30 days and strive to move quickly with whatever was left of the case.
Mike Scarcella contributed to this report.