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Texas sports doctor charged as supplier for suspended Olympic athletes

The criminal complaint filed Wednesday in New York marks the first use of the new federal law against doping in athletics.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Federal prosecutors charged a Texas sports doctor on Wednesday with providing performance-enhancing drugs to the stars of the Tokyo Olympics, wielding for the first time an anti-doping law passed by Congress in 2020.

The 10-page criminal complaint against Eric Lira, 41, says the El Paso-based kinesiologist and naturopathic doctor distributed performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone and erythropoietin, a blood-building hormone, “for the purpose of corrupting” the 2020 summer games in Japan, which were ultimately held in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lira is the first person to be charged under the Rodchenkov Act, an anti-doping law named after Grigory Rodchenkov, a former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director and later whistleblower who said he was ordered by Russian Sports Ministry officials to cover up drug use by leading Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and other major sports events.

Among the athletes allegedly supplied by Lira is Blessing Okagbare, the Nigerian sprinter suspended last year after testing positive for human growth hormone in an out-of-competition test on July 19, four days before the Olympics opened.

Details on an individual that the complaint describes as "Athlete-1" line up with Okagbare, a former world championships silver medalist.

In one of multiple exchanges sent over an encrypted messaging app, the athlete wrote Lira about having just run the 100m in 10.63 seconds. Okagbare ran a race in that time a few days before the message was sent.

“Eric my body feel so good,” she wrote. “Whatever you did is working so well.”

Lira responded: "You are doing your part and you will be ready to dominate."

Prosecutors say the communications were uncovered in a search of the athlete's cellphone as she was returning to the United States from Tokyo.

“Is it safe to take a test this morning?” Okagbare wrote in another message to Lira that the complaint quotes.

“Remember I took it Wednesday and then yesterday again. I wasn’t sure so I didn’t take a test.”

Lira was taken into federal custody on Wednesday, and is expected to be presented in the Western District of Texas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miguel A. Torres.

“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 Damien Williams wrote in a statement Wednesday.

“The promise of the Olympic Games is a global message of unification,” the top prosecutor in Manhattan said. “Today, this Office sends a strong message to those who would taint the Games and seek to profit from that corruption.”

Lira faces a maximum of 10 years in prison on one count under Rodchenkov Act, which prohibits “any person, other than an athlete,” to knowingly influence any “major international sports competition” with the use of prohibited substance.

Lira faces an additional five-year maximum sentence on a second criminal count for conspiring to violate drug misbranding and adulteration laws by bringing “misbranded” versions of the drugs to the United States from Central and South America before distributing them to athletes.

The two-count criminal complaint was signed by FBI special agent Ryan Serkes.

The case is being handled by the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.   Assistant United States attorneys Sarah Mortazavi and Andrew C. Adams are in charge of the prosecution.

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