East Coast Steroid Scandal

Thursday, March 1st 2007, 8:57 am
By: News On 6

Testing for performance-enhancing drugs can only go so far _ and nab so many people.

Bring state and federal law-enforcement officials in, and it could change the landscape of the anti-doping fight.

Illicit steroid distribution networks, which may be responsible for Internet sales of performance-enhancing drugs nationwide, have been targeted by prosecutors in upstate New York and Rhode Island. Customers reportedly included Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and former baseball star Jose Canseco, as well as a doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

``We've known for a long time that coaches, doctors, even companies prey and enable our athletes to use drugs against the rules,'' Travis Tygart, general counsel for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said Wednesday. ``It's these types of national law enforcement efforts that will be most successful in bringing the manufacturers and distributors of these drugs to their knees.

``And that's good for all of sports and our athletes.''

Testing may expose athletes who cheat, but it does little to punish those who make, market and distribute performance-enhancing substances, let alone stop the flow of drugs. That's why these new investigations have the potential to be so significant.

Instead of the stars and designer drugs in the BALCO scandal, authorities are targeting those who supply steroids to big-name and no-name users alike across the country.

``I understand that the involvement of athletes and celebrities makes this a sexy story, but I assure you we are not, at this point, we are not concerned with the celebrity factor,'' said P. David Soares, district attorney of Albany County, N.Y.

``Our focus here is to shut down distribution channels.''

Federal and state agents raided two pharmacies in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday in connection with an investigation by Soares' office. Eight people in three states were arrested, and prosecutors say 24 could face felony charges by the time their investigation is over.

On Thursday, four defendants waived extradition in Orlando, but their attorneys requested they be released on bond, fitted with global tracking monitors and allowed to turn themselves in to New York authorities.

Orange County Judge Mike Murphy denied the bond request but said if New York authorities did not pick up the defendants by March 8, he would reconsider bond.

Defense attorneys said their clients learned of the investigation about a month ago and repeatedly offered to surrender in Albany County, but the district attorney refused.

An Albany County grand jury also has indicted the two owners of a pharmacy in Mobile, Ala., according to the Times Union of Albany, which first disclosed the widespread investigation. An attorney for Applied Pharmacy Services told Mobile's WALA-TV that federal authorities raided the company last August.

And last week, federal prosecutors in Rhode Island announced charges in an alleged scheme to illegally prescribe anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to bodybuilders in several states.

``Historically, people who abuse these things were fearful of drug testing,'' said Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. ``Now they've got to be fearful not only of drug testing, they've got to be fearful of law enforcement. ... `Are the persons I'm getting it from under some federal investigation and am I going to get snagged?'

``I'm quite confident that this had nothing to do with the investigation of athletes,'' Wadler added. ``It happened to deal with an investigation of a doctor or pharmacist and, lo and behold, there were people's names. They weren't targets. They're collateral, if you will.''

Former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley and a doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers were linked to Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, according to the Times Union. Grimsley's agent, Joe Bick, declined comment, and his attorney did not return a phone call.

The paper also said Matthews, Canseco and Holyfield were allegedly on Applied Pharmacy's customer list. SI.com reported that Matthews allegedly was sent Genotropin, a brand of synthetic growth hormone, in August 2004.

The drug, which came from Applied Pharmacy, was sent to the address in Mansfield, Texas, of one of Matthews' former minor league teammates, according to the Internet site.

Matthews, speaking to reporters at the Angels' spring training camp in Mesa, Ariz., said he wasn't ``in a position to answer any specific questions.''

``I do expect it to resolve itself here in the near future. ... Until we get more information, I just can't comment on it,'' he said.

A message left with Holyfield on Wednesday was not returned. Canseco's attorney, Robert Saunooke, told The Associated Press he would be surprised if the former slugger had been a client.

``I would find it highly unlikely,'' he said. ``All the steroids that he got were prescribed to him or were from people in the gym. There's never been anything he's gotten online.''

Soares has refused to answer most questions about the case, which involves sealed indictments. But Albany prosecutors allege Signature Pharmacy repeatedly filled prescriptions even though it knew they were not the result of face-to-face meetings between doctor and patient, a violation of New York law.

During the raid in Orlando, investigators seized drugs, including anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, said Carl Metzger, narcotics commander for Orlando's Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration questioned the doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers about hormone purchases from the Orlando pharmacy.

The Times Union reported that Dr. Richard Rydze was asked about his purchase last year of about $150,000 in testosterone and human growth hormone. The purchase was made on Rydze's personal credit card.

``There is no evidence that Dr. Rydze prescribed or provided any hormone treatments to any of our players,'' Steelers president Art Rooney II said. ``Dr. Rydze has assured me that this has never happened and will never happen.''

Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said it was investigating the purchase made by Rydze, who works there.

``We have initiated an internal review and at this time we have no further factual information or comment,'' said Susan Manko, a UPMC spokeswoman.