Justice Department to seek judgment against Lance Armstrong’s former manager
The original lawsuit sought $100 million but the cyclist was able to reach a much lower settlement with the federal government.
USA TODAY Sports
The U.S. Justice Department plans to seek a default judgment against Lance Armstrong’s former cycling team manager after he ignored a federal lawsuit against him.
The manager, Johan Bruyneel, helped direct all seven of Armstrong’s tainted victories in the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005. But then the Justice Department named him as a co-defendant in a $100 million civil fraud case against Armstrong in 2013.
A judge dismissed Armstrong from the case this week after he agreed to pay nearly $7 million. And now a default judgment against Bruyneel could put him on the hook for a considerable amount of money, though it likely will be difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. government to collect from him because he lives overseas.
Bruyneel, a Belgian living in London, made this gamble in 2014, when he decided to ignore the lawsuit. The U.S. government alleged he conspired with Armstrong to rip off the U.S. Postal Service, the sponsor of their cycling team more than 14 years ago.
Bruyneel didn’t return a message seeking comment. A former attorney for Bruyneel in the case declined comment.
To settle out of the case, Armstrong recently agreed to pay $5 million to the government and $1.65 million for the legal expenses of Floyd Landis, a former cycling teammate who originally filed the case as government whistleblower.
Landis’ attorney, Paul Scott, told USA TODAY Sports that “Bruyneel can’t ride off into the sunset quite yet.”
“The potential recovery (from Bruyneel) will depend on what is requested by the plaintiffs and what is subsequently ordered by the court,” Scott said. “We will be focusing in the coming weeks on the question of what precisely we will be requesting. The first order of business will be to obtain a judgment. Then we will move to the collection stage.”
Bruyneel, 53, was at Armstrong’s side at the height of his fame, but all seven of their Tour de France victories later were stripped amid a mountain of evidence that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions to cheat in races.
Attorneys for the government and Landis notified the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., this week that they plan to ask the judge in the case for the default judgment against Bruyneel.
The government had alleged Bruyneel had encouraged the cycling team’s use of illicit drugs and told riders when and where they should meet doctors for illicit treatments. The Postal Service paid $32.3 million to sponsor the cycling team from 2000 to 2004 – money the government sought to recoup for the Postal Service after learning the team was doping in violation of its sponsorship contract. Under the False Claims Act, those damages conceivably could have been tripled to nearly $100 million.
The trial had been scheduled for next week until Armstrong agreed to settle. The government also notified the court this week it plans to seek a default judgment against Tailwind Sports, the company that managed the cycling team. That company dissolved in 2007, and a judgment against it might only be symbolic in effect to end the case.
In 2016, a clerk for the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., declared Bruyneel and Tailwind Sports to be in default in the case after they failed to answer the lawsuit. Bruyneel previously had American attorneys attempt to have the case against him dismissed, but after that attempt failed in 2014, he dropped his attorneys and never responded to the suit again.
It was an apparent gamble that any civil judgment in the case could not be enforced against him overseas.
A default judgment against him would be decided by Judge Christopher Cooper. If granted, it still won’t be good for Bruyneel.
“Nobody likes to have a judgment outstanding against them, because there’s always the risk that if you have assets somewhere, somebody will try to enforce that judgment,” said Linda Silberman, a transnational law expert and law professor at New York University.
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