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Feds don't want Lance Armstrong to say 'everybody was doing it'

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 17/7/2017 Brent Schrotenboer , USA TODAY Sports

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The United States government is putting Lance Armstrong on trial in November for civil fraud but doesn’t want the dirty history of cycling to be put on trial at the same time.

Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department filed documents Friday that urge a federal judge to prevent Armstrong from using an “everybody was doing it” defense at trial when discussing his doping in cycling. If he loses the case, Armstrong, 45, could be on the hook for nearly $100 million in damages stemming from his time as a rider for the U.S. Postal Service cycling team.

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“Although he insists otherwise, Armstrong’s argument in fact shows that he intends to put the entire sport of cycling on trial,” said court documents submitted Friday by attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department. “To distract the jury from his own misdeeds, he seeks to present a lengthy and irrelevant 125-year history of doping in cycling, detailing, for example, long-deceased Tour de France riders’ reported use of heroin in the 1890s or amphetamines in the 1950s, and other non-USPS team riders’ use of EPO in the early 1990s.”

The government is suing Armstrong on behalf of the U.S. Postal Service after the Postal Service paid $32.3 million to sponsor Armstrong’s cycling team from 2000 to 2004. The government says the cycling team violated its sponsorship contract with the Postal Service by using banned drugs and blood transfusions to cheat in races. It also alleges Armstrong concealed those violations by lying about them, effectively causing false claims to be submitted to the Postal Service to continue payment.

To keep the focus on Armstrong alone, the government wants U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper to exclude evidence of performance-enhancing drug use by cyclists on other teams.  The government’s arguments were filed Friday in response to Armstrong’s efforts to allow a bigger picture of the sport’s doping culture to be presented at trial. Cooper will rule on it beforehand.

Last month, Armstrong’s attorneys said the larger doping culture in the sport is relevant because Armstrong’s conduct “did not occur in a vacuum, nor did the USPS’ current expressions of shock and surprise that there was doping on their cycling team.”

They say the government’s assertions that Armstrong caused the team to dope and submit false claims are not true and the larger state of cycling helps show that.

If the government wins, it could get its money back times three under the False Claims Act – nearly $100 million. Armstrong could be on the hook for all of it, but his attorneys have vigorously contested the government’s case, especially the notion that the Postal Service suffered damages because of the cycling team’s doping.

“It is only fair for Armstrong to respond by demonstrating that it was the entirety of the sport that was 'encouraging' and 'facilitating' doping,” said Armstrong’s attorneys at the firm Keker, Van Nest & Peters.

The government sees it differently and also is trying to exclude the testimony of John Gleaves, an expert on the history of doping who was hired by Armstrong’s legal team.

“Permitting Armstrong to parade this 'everybody was doing it' argument before the jury would unduly prejudice the Plaintiffs because it would mislead the jury into thinking that Armstrong should be given a pass for his (False Claims Act) violations because some of his competitors were also doping,” said the recent filing submitted by government attorneys, including Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Justice Department.

“But, even if 'everybody' else was doping, everybody else was not lying to the USPS about that doping while inducing USPS to renew a lucrative sponsorship agreement.”

Armstrong doesn’t dispute his doping. He confessed to that on national television in 2013 – after more than a decade of denials. Instead, he’s defending himself in part by saying the Postal Service got what it bargained for with the sponsorship and received far more in benefits and publicity than the $32.3 million that was paid.

The case originated in 2010, when Armstrong’s teammate, Floyd Landis, filed a complaint against Armstrong under seal in federal court. The government joined Landis’ case in 2013, shortly after Armstrong’s doping confession. If the government’s case succeeds, Landis could get up to 25% of recovered damages as the whistleblower who first brought the case.

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