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U.S. charges Texas therapist with giving Tokyo Olympic athletes performance-enhancing drugs

A Texas therapist allegedly distributed performance-enhancing drugs to two United States athletes ahead of their participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games held last summer in Japan, according to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

U.S. prosecutors arrested and charged Eric Lira, a 41-year-old therapist in El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday in the first criminal accusations in the U.S. of doping at the Tokyo Games. The Olympics were postponed one year due to COVID-19.

The two athletes were not identified in the charging documents. Lira, who prosecutors said calls himself a "kinesiologist and naturopathic" therapist, is expected to appear before a federal judge in Texas Wednesday. He is the first charged under the Rodchenkov Act passed in December 2020 that extends enforcement of illegal drug activities to international events.

Therapist charged with distributing PEDs

Lira allegedly obtained misbranded versions of prescription drugs from Central and South America and distributed them to two athletes, prosecutors said. The drugs included human growth hormone and erythropoietin, commonly called "EPO" and used to stimulate production and maintenance of red blood cells.

“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," Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said 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.”

FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said prosecutors allege that Lira "knew he was breaking rules when he communicated with Olympians through an encrypted messaging app to hide his illegal activity."

Therapist, athletes tried to evade testing

Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Federal prosecutors charged a Texas therapist with giving American athletes performance-enhancing drugs ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)

Prosecutors said Lira communicated with an athlete, identified as "Athlete-1" in the complaint, via encrypted communications regarding the sale, shipment and use of the drugs. It included communication regarding the "testability" of the drugs by anti-doping authorities, per the complaint. They also spoke of the results after using the drugs. Per the complaint:

On or about June 22, 2021, Athlete-1 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.” Shortly thereafter, and in advance of Athlete-1’s arrival in Tokyo to compete in the 2020 Olympics, LIRA encouraged his client: “What you did ... is going to help you for the upcoming events. You are doing your part and you will be ready to dominate” (ellipsis in original).

Athlete-1 was caught in a drug test conducted around July 19, 2021 and the athlete was suspended from Olympic competition, "including in the women's 100m semi-finals" the evening of July 30, 2021, prosecutors said.