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Feds Must Say What & When They|Knew About Lance Armstrong’s Doping

(CN) - Lance Armstrong's attempt to show that the United States waited too long to accuse him of fraud may get a boost in discovery, a federal judge ruled.

Armstrong, 43, became an American icon after fighting off testicular cancer and going on to win the Tour De France a record seven times from 1999 to 2005.

The Austin, Texas, native founded the Livestrong Foundation, a nonprofit that supports cancer victims, in 1997.

Armstrong's successes at the Tour De France helped fuel $50 million sales of the bright yellow Livestrong wristbands. After the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a report in 2012 that accused him of running the most sophisticated doping program in sports history, however, the cyclist was stripped of his Tour de France wins.

Armstrong copped to many of the allegations in a January 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Floyd Landis, Armstrong's former teammate on their U.S. Postal Service-sponsored cycling team, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against Armstrong and former team manager Johan Bruyneel in 2010, alleging they knew about the team's widespread use of banned drugs, conduct that violated sponsorship deals the Postal Service signed in 1995 and 2000.

The Postal Service reportedly paid Armstrong's cycling team, Tailwind Sports, $42 million in sponsorship fees before the doping scandal came out. Uncle Sam joined Landis' lawsuit in 2013, seeking to recoup the Postal Service sponsorship fees under the False Claims Act.

U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins of Washington, D.C., advanced the case this past June, finding the lawsuit was "rife with allegations that Armstrong had knowledge of the doping, and that he made false statements to conceal the doping."

After the case was transferred to U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, Armstrong moved to compel the government's production of documents that he claims are essential to his defense.

Federal prosecutors in the Central District of California launched a criminal investigation of Armstrong in 2009 over his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, but ultimately decided not to seek an indictment against him.

Armstrong now seeks production of witness-interview memos that federal prosecutors prepared for the criminal investigation.

The feds mistakenly produced 29 of the memos to Armstrong during discovery, but they argued that 26 additional witness statement memos are protected by attorney work-product privilege and attorney-client privilege.

Armstrong countered that, since the memos contained "substantially verbatim" witness statements, they are not protected by any attorney privilege.

Cooper found Tuesday that Armstrong should see the memos in the interest of fairness.

"The civil lawyers litigating this qui tam action have received a substantial advantage from having access to the fruits of the prior criminal investigation.Particularly in qui tam actions, fairness dictates that both sides have equal access to relevant witness statements developed by law enforcement in prior or parallel criminal investigations," the 16-page ruling states.

Armstrong also requested documents pertinent to the government's knowledge of doping in pro cycling, which could prove his statute-of-limitations defense.

The False Claims Act prohibits the filing of whistle-blower cases "more than three years after the date when facts material to the right of action are known or reasonably should have been known by the official of the United States charged with responsibility to act in the circumstances."

Cooper decided Armstrong has a right to those documents as well.

"The government asserts that any information about the official's knowledge after June 10, 2007-three years prior to the date Landis filed his complaint-'is entirely irrelevant to the litigation,'" Cooper wrote. "The court disagrees.

"Any records that indicate or suggest knowledge by the responsible official before the cut-off date-even if the record itself was created after June 10, 2007-are relevant and subject to the government's discovery obligations."

The ruling does not identify the Justice Department official responsible for investigating doping in cycling.

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