Now that the federal government has decided to sue him for fraud, Lance Armstrong
plans to argue that the case against him is too old to pursue and that he never submitted a false claim to the government, according to a person close to Armstrong's defense team.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, also told USA TODAY Sports on Monday that Armstrong's legal team would argue that the government knew or should have known about doping on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team -- but did nothing to stop it.
"We will say there was enough information (about doping on the USPS team) to put you (the government) on notice, and you should have filed a false claim before," the person in Armstrong's camp says.
The strategy shows the tightrope of technicalities that Armstrong will seek to walk after the U.S. Justice Department announced Friday that it had joined a civil fraud case against Armstrong under the False Claims Act.
Armstrong vigorously denied doping for more than a decade before confessing last month on national television. But the government's case against him will not be about whether he cheated. Instead, it is likely to come down to legal issues such as the six-year statute of limitations and the legal definition of a false claim.
An issue expected to heat up early: What did the USPS know and when did it know it?
"The law is that if the government knew of the fraud, you can't prosecute someone for fraud," said Tony Anikeeff, a lawyer who specializes in similar cases for the firm Williams Mullen. "(The government's argument) will be that he denied it vociferously for years and kept them in the dark."
Anikeeff, who is not involved in the case, said a big early hurdle for the government will be the statute of limitations.
The suit was first filed in 2010 by another confessed cycling cheat, Floyd Landis, Armstrong's former USPS teammate.
It argues that Armstrong and his associates defrauded the government through their doping scheme on the USPS team.
Because Armstrong and others used banned drugs and blood transfusions to boost themselves on the bike, the suit argues they violated their USPS sponsorship contracts and that the government should get its money back.
USPS paid $31 million to sponsor Armstrong's team from 2001 to 2004.
Landis seeks to recover triple that amount for the government -- more than $90 million, with Landis getting at least 25% as the whistleblower who brought the case to the government's attention.