Texas man charged with giving 2020 Olympic athletes performance drugs

Written by on January 12, 2022

Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — A naturopathic therapist who operates out of El Paso, Texas, has been charged with distributing multiple performance-enhancing drugs to at least two athletes for the purpose of cheating at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, federal prosecutors in New York said.

The charges against Eric Lira are the first brought under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, a measure signed into law in December 2020 that outlaws doping schemes at international sports competitions, including the Olympics.

Lira, 41, allegedly obtained misbranded human growth hormone and the blood building drug erythropoietin in advance of the Tokyo Games from sources in Central and South America. According to the criminal complaint, he distributed them to two athletes who were identified only as “Athlete-1” and “Athlete-2.”

“At a moment that the Olympic Games offered a poignant reminder of international connections in the midst of a global pandemic that had separated communities and countries for over a year, and at a moment that the Games offered thousands of athletes validation after years of training, Eric Lira schemed to debase that moment by peddling illegal drugs,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

The complaint quoted from encrypted communications in which Lira and Athlete-1 allegedly discussed the drugs.

On June 13 “Athlete-1 wrote to LIRA, ‘So I took 2000ui of the E [erythropoietin] yesterday, is it safe to take a test this morning?’ LIRA replied, ‘Good day [Athlete-1] . . . . 2000 ui is a low dosage.’ Athlete-1 replied further, ‘Remember I took it Wednesday and then yesterday again / I wasn’t sure so I didn’t take a test / I just let them go so it will be a missed test,’” the complaint said.

Athlete-1 was suspended from Olympic competition on July 30, 2021, after she was found to have used human growth hormone, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She was banned from the 100m semi-finals, a description that matches Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.

Lira is also accused of conspiring with others to violate drug misbranding and adulteration laws, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

He made his initial appearance via Zoom before Judge Miguel Torres in Texas on Wednesday, the day he was arrested.

Lira said he has not yet hired an attorney but plans to. The judge appointed a public defender to at least handle his next court date Tuesday.

He remains detained.

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