US prosecutors have charged a Texas man with providing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes competing in last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, including star Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare.
Eric Lira, 41, of El Paso, is the first person to be charged under a new US anti-doping law governing international sports competitions.
The US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan said Lira distributed the drugs, including human growth hormone and erythropoietin, a blood-building hormone, “for the purpose of corrupting” the 2020 Games, which were held in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lira also is accused of conspiring to violate drug misbranding and adulteration laws.
“It’s not winning if you take illegal substances – it’s cheating,” FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said in a statement.
The criminal complaint identifies 33-year-old Okagbare only as “athlete 1”, but it includes details, including her performances in specific races, that make it clear she was one of Lira’s clients.
Okagbare had been provisionally suspended for testing positive for human growth hormone in July 2021 – in an out-of-competition test – just hours before the former world championships silver medalist was due to run in the semifinals of the women’s 100 metres at the Olympics.
The Athletics Integrity Unit last year said Okagbare also had tested positive for a blood booster in Nigeria in June.
She was charged with failing to cooperate with the investigation after she disobeyed an order to produce “documents, records and electronic storage devices” in relation to the other charges, the AIU said at the time.
“When it’s time to say anything, I will and it will be worth the wait,” Okagbare tweeted last year.
The criminal complaint alleges that Lira, a kinesiologist and naturopathic doctor, brought “misbranded” versions of the drugs to the United States from Central and South America before distributing them to athletes.
Federal authorities searched Okagbare’s cellphone as she was returning to the United States from Tokyo and found she had frequently communicated with Lira over an encrypted app, according to the complaint.
“Is it safe to take a test this morning?” Okagbare wrote in one message to Lira, according to the complaint.
“Remember I took it Wednesday and then yesterday again. I wasn’t sure so I didn’t take a test.”
In another exchange, Okagbare wrote to Lira that she had just run the 100m in 10.63 seconds. “Eric my body feel so good,” she wrote. “Whatever you did is working so well.”
“You are doing your part and you will be ready to dominate,” Lira wrote to the athlete.
The charges against Lira were brought under the Rodchenkov Act, a law signed in 2020 that prohibits “any person, other than an athlete” to knowingly influence any “major international sports competition” with the use of prohibited substance.