First Olympic Anti-Doping Charges Filed In Manhattan Federal Court
Eric Lira Allegedly Distributed Multiple Performance Enhancing Drugs in an Effort to Corrupt the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
(STL.News) Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the unsealing of the first criminal charge under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, signed into law on December 4, 2020, which proscribes doping schemes at international sports competitions, including the Olympic Games.
The Complaint unsealed today alleges that ERIC LIRA, a “naturopathic” therapist operating principally in the area of El Paso, Texas, obtained various performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”) and distributed those PEDs to certain athletes in advance of, and for the purpose of cheating at, the 2020 Olympic Games held in Tokyo in the summer of 2021. LIRA was taken into federal custody today and is expected to be presented in the Western District of Texas today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miguel A. Torres.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “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. 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: “Performance enhancing substances deprive competitors of a level playing field. We allege Mr. Lira knew he was breaking the rules when he communicated with Olympians through an encrypted messaging app to hide his illegal activity. It’s not winning if you take illegal substances – it’s cheating, and Mr. Lira will now be forced to face the consequences of his alleged criminal actions.”
As alleged in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
The charges in this Complaint arises from an investigation of a scheme to provide Olympic athletes with PEDs, including drugs widely banned throughout competitive sports such as human growth hormone and the “blood building” drug erythropoietin, in advance of and for the purpose of corrupting the 2020 Olympic Games, which convened in Tokyo in the summer of 2021.
LIRA, who claims to be a “kinesiologist and naturopathic” doctor operating principally in and around El Paso, Texas, obtained misbranded versions of these, and other, prescription drugs from sources in Central and South America, before bringing those drugs into the United States and distributing them to, among other, the two athletes referred to in the Complaint as “Athlete-1” and “Athlete-2.” Throughout the scheme, LIRA and Athlete-1 communicated via encrypted electronic communications discuss the sale, shipment, and use of LIRA’s illegal drugs, and specifically discussed the “testability” of those drugs by anti-doping authorities.
For example, on or about June 13, 2021, 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.”
LIRA and Athlete-1, in particular, explicitly acknowledged the effectiveness of the doping program achieved through the use of LIRA’s illegal drugs. 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).
Notwithstanding the attempt to evade anti-doping tests, LIRA and Athlete-1 were discovered in their scheme. On or about July 19, 2021, Athlete-1underwent an out-of-competition blood collection for purposes of drug testing by the Athletics Integrity Unit, a body charged with ensuring fair competition and prevention of doping at the Tokyo Olympics, among other competitions. The results of that testing reflected Athlete-1’s use of human growth hormone. On or about July 30, 2021, Athlete-1 was provisionally suspended from Olympic competition, including in the women’s 100m semi-finals set to take place that same evening.
LIRA is the first defendant charged pursuant to the recently enacted Rodchenkov Act. On December 4, 2020, the Rodchenkov Act was signed into law, Pub. L. 116-206, and incorporated into Title 21 of the United States Code at sections 2401 through 2404. The Rodchenkov Act prohibits any person, other than an athlete, to knowingly carry into effect, attempt to carry into effect, or conspire with any other person to carry into effect a scheme in commerce to influence by use of a prohibited substance or prohibited method any major international sports competition. 21 U.S.C. § 2402.
ERIC LIRA, 41, of El Paso, Texas, is, in addition to the charge under the Rodchenkov Act, accused of conspiring with others to violate the drug misbranding and adulteration laws of the United States, in violation 18 U.S.C. § 371 and 21 U.S.C. §§ 331 & 333(a)(2). The maximum term of imprisonment under the Rodchenkov Act is 10 years, and the maximum term of imprisonment for conspiring to violate the misbranding laws is 5 years. These maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge assigned to each case.
* * *
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the FBI’s Integrity in Sports and Gaming Initiative. Mr. Williams also thanked the United States Anti-Doping Agency for their support of this investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Sarah Mortazavi and Andrew C. Adams are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.