Unveiling their first case under a law meant to prevent doping in international sports competitions, U.S. prosecutors charged a Texas-based “naturopathic” therapist with prescribing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, including the star Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.
“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 for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams wrote in a statement. “The promise of the Olympic Games is a global message of unification. Today, this Office sends a strong message to those who would taint the Games and seek to profit from that corruption.”
Eric Lira, an El Paso, Texas-based naturopathic therapist, faces two federal charges that could put him away in prison for a maximum of 15 years.
His prosecution is notable for being the first use of a relatively new statute known as the Rodchenkov Act, signed into law during the waning days of the Donald Trump administration on Dec. 4, 2020.
Named after whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov—the former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory who exposed that country’s state-sponsored doping—the legislation aimed to punish conspiring to “influence by use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method any major international sports competition,” according to the criminal complaint.
Charged under that statute and a separate conspiracy count, Lira allegedly misbranded drugs that he acquired from sources in Central and South America and distributing them to people identified in his complaint only as “Athlete-1” and “Athlete-2.”
Though neither is named in the complaint, the details of one of the athletes matches that of Okagbare, whose identity was confirmed by the Associated Press. Prosecutors say the first athlete was a woman suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit on July 30, 2020, following a positive test for human growth hormone. That matches what happened to Okagbare.
Before that time, however, Lira discussed the “testability” of the drugs in encrypted communications with Okagbare, prosecutors say.
According to the complaint, Okagbare wrote to Lira on June 13, 2021: “So I took 2000ui of the E [erythropoietin] yesterday, is it safe to take a test this morning?”
Lira allegedly replied that was a “low dosage.”
Prosecutors say that Okagbare responded: “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.”
A little more than a week later on June 22, Okagbare allegedly wrote to Lira: “Hola amigo / Eric my body feel so good / I just ran 10.63 in the 100m on Friday / with a 2.7 wind / I am sooooo happy / Ericccccccc / Whatever you did, is working so well.”
Despite their planning, prosecutors say, the athlete was discovered the following month on July 19, during blood collection conducted by the Athletics Integrity Unit, prosecutors say. The suspension was issued later that month.
Lira did not have a defense attorney listed on his federal docket before press time.
Read the complaint, below:
(Kai Pfaffenbach at AFP via Getty Images)
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