By Duncan Mackay

Lance Armstrong in US Postal kitFebruary 22 - Lance Armstrong is being sued by the United States Government for allegedly defrauding the US Postal Service by accepting sponsorship money and then taking banned performance-enhancing drugs, it was revealed tonight.

The Government has joined a civil suit against Armstrong, stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling last year after the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) found him guilty of using drugs for most of his career. 

Last month, in a television interview with Oprah Winfrey, he admitted using banned drugs during all seven of his Tour de France victories. 

Travis Tygart, the chief executive of USADA, had reportedly written to the US Attorney General Eric Holder on January 14, urging him to join the civil case and telling Holder that "fraud and other crimes were committed" by Armstrong and other members of his former US Postal Service teams.

The letter is dated the same day Armstrong admitted his drug use to Winfrey in a television interview that was broadcast on January 17 and 18.

Armstrong and his teammates wore the logo of the US Postal Service during all of their record-breaking wins.

Besides Armstrong, the suit also names his agent, Bill Stapleton, Stapleton's agency and the cycling team's management company, Tailwind Sports.

"This lawsuit is designed to help the Postal Service recoup the tens of millions of dollars it paid out to the Tailwind cycling team based on years of broken promises," Ronald Machen, the US Attorney for Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

The sponsorship money totalled more than $30 million (£20 million/€30 million), the Government said.

Armstrong plans to contest the suit because the Postal Service was not actually damaged, his lawyer, Robert Luskin, said.

"The Postal Service's own studies show that the service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship - benefits totalling more than $100 million (£66 million/€76 million)," the lawyer said in a statement.

Former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis filed a sealed whistleblower suit against Armstrong in 2010.

Lance Armstrong with Floyd LandisFormer Lance Armstrong (right) team-mate Floyd Landis (left) has been joined by the US Government in suing him after he filed a sealed whistleblower suit

The decision by the Government to join the suit triggered its unsealing.

"I had come to a point in my life where I decided that I had to tell the truth for the sake of my conscience," Landis, who also admitted to using banned drugs after he was stripped of his Tour de France title in 2006 following a positive test, said in a statement released by his lawyer.

Armstrong faces other suits arising out of his admission of cheating.

This month, marketing firm SCA Promotions Inc alleged in a Texas state court that the cyclist defrauded it of $12 million (£7.5 million/€9 million) in bonuses plus interest.

Arrmstrong is already being sued by The Sunday Times for £1 million ($1.6 million/€1.2 million) after he successfully won a libel action against them nine years ago following an article written by David Walsh.

The US Government is suing under the False Claims Act, an 1863 law that encourages private individuals to file suit when they have evidence of fraud involving Government money.

When the Government believes a suit has merit, it may take over the litigation.

The individuals, or whistleblowers, get up to 30 per cent of the proceeds if the case is successful.

Since the law was revitalised in 1986, it has been used frequently against military contractors, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.

Armstrong and his team "agreed to play by the rules and not use performance enhancing drugs," said Postal Service General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons. 

"We now know that the defendants failed to live up to their agreement," .

In his letter to Holder, Tygart that USADA had "uncovered one of the greatest frauds in the history of sport" but that his agency had reached the end of what it can do to punish Armstrong and other "non-sports" people involved with his teams.

"Fraud and other crimes were committed," Tygart wrote, telling Holder that the case involved drug trafficking, federal witness intimidation and that other federal agencies have gathered more information.

"USADA has already done the work in the sports case and won," Tygart wrote.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
February 2013: Armstrong to defend himself against $12 million lawsuit from Texan insurer
December 2012: Lance Armstrong being sued by The Sunday Times for £1 million