Marilyn Tennissen Mar. 5, 2013, 12:58pm

The federal government has joined a civil lawsuit against Lance Armstrong alleging that the cyclist committed fraud by taking performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France and other events for the U.S. Postal Service team.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2010 by one of Armstrong’s former teammates, Floyd Landis. Landis had admitted to doping, and said Armstrong participated in the doping scheme as well. Armstrong denied the allegations for years before recently confessing to Oprah Winfrey during a televised interview.

The suit says Armstrong and his team defrauded the U.S. Postal Service, which had spent at least $31 million between 2001 and 2004 to sponsor the cycling team. It argues that because Armstrong and other USPS cyclists used banned drugs and blood transfusions to gain an advantage, they violated their sponsorship contracts and the government should get its money back.

"Lance Armstrong and his cycling team took more than $30 million from the U.S. Postal Service based on their contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules – including the rules against doping," said a statement from Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C.

"The Postal Service has now seen its sponsorship unfairly associated with what has been described as 'the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.' This lawsuit is designed to help the Postal Service recoup the tens of millions of dollars it paid out to the (Armstrong's) cycling team based on years of broken promises. In today's economic climate, the U.S. Postal Service is simply not in a position to allow Lance Armstrong or any of the other defendants to walk away with the tens of millions of dollars they illegitimately procured."

Under the False Claims Act, the government can recover treble damages, which in this case could be more than $90 million.

Armstrong’s attorney Robert Luskin told USA Today disagrees that the Postal Service suffered any damages.

"The Postal's Services own studies show that the service benefited tremendously from its sponsorship – benefits totaling more than $100 million,” Luskin said.

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