In April 2018, the Department of Justice announced a $5M settlement reached in its lawsuit against former professional cyclist, Lance Armstrong. While the fallout from Armstrong’s latently-admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs (“PEDs”) was well-publicized, including lost sponsorship deals, stripped Tour de France titles, and damage to his reputation, few were aware of Armstrong’s exposure to liability and criminal culpability for false claims against the government. The DOJ’s announcement reminded Armstrong and the rest of us of the golden rule of dealing with the government: honesty is the best policy. The corollary to that rule is that dishonesty is costly.
Armstrong’s liability stemmed from false statements (denying the use of PEDs) he made, directly and through team members and other representatives, to U.S. Postal Service (“USPS”) representatives and to the public. USPS was the primary sponsor of the grand tour cycling team led by Armstrong. The government alleged in the lawsuit that Armstrong’s false statements were made to induce USPS to renew and increase its sponsorship fees, in violation of the False Claims Act.
Enacted in 1863, the False Claims Act (“FCA”) was originally aimed at stopping and deterring frauds perpetrated by contractors against the government during the Civil War. Congress amended the FCA in the years since its enactment, but its primary focus and target have remained those who present or directly induce the submission of false or fraudulent claims. The current FCA imposes penalties on anyone who knowingly presents “a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval” to the federal Government. A “claim” now includes direct requests to the Government for payment, as well as reimbursement requests made to the recipients of federal funds under federal benefits programs (such as Medicare). Thirty-one states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have also enacted laws imposing penalties for false claims against state agencies and their subdivisions, with most of these laws modelled after the federal FCA.
Reprinted courtesy of Brian S. Wood, Smith, Currie & Hancock, LLP and Alex Gorelik, Smith, Currie & Hancock, LLP
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