Athletes Received Illegal Steroids In Online Ring

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Athletes were involved as customers in an illicit steroid distribution network that led authorities to raid two Orlando pharmacies and arrest four company officials, a New York prosecutor

Wednesday, February 28th 2007, 8:35 am

By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Athletes were involved as customers in an illicit steroid distribution network that led authorities to raid two Orlando pharmacies and arrest four company officials, a New York prosecutor said.

Albany County (N.Y.) District Attorney P. David Soares refused to identify any steroid recipients, saying prosecutors were focused on producers and distributors.

Customers allegedly include Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to the Times Union of Albany, which first disclosed the investigation, citing unidentified sources.

The paper said the names of Matthews, along with former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and former baseball star Jose Canseco were allegedly included on customer lists for Applied Pharmacy Services in Mobile, Ala. The two owners have been indicted by an Albany County grand jury.

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 Wednesday.

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,'' Saunooke 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.''

Saunooke added that neither he nor Canseco had been contacted by any investigators in the case.

``Just Senator Mitchell,'' he said, referring to baseball's ongoing investigation into steroids.

A message left with Holyfield was not immediately returned.

The Times Union said investigators found evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed over the Internet to current and former Major League Baseball and NFL players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another top contender in the bodybuilding competition.

The paper said customers of Signature Pharmacy in Orlando included several former and current professional athletes. Among those allegedly linked to the company were former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley and a team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Grimsley's agent, Joe Bick, declined comment.

The paper said a New York investigator flew to Pittsburgh last month to interview Dr. Richard A. Rydze about why he allegedly used a personal credit card to purchase about $150,000 in testosterone and human growth hormone in 2006.

Rydze told the investigator the drugs were for his private patients, the paper said, citing an unidentified person briefed on the interview.

There are no allegations Rydze violated any laws.

Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett told the AP that Rydze works for the club mostly on game days. He is listed among the seven doctors under the ``medical staff'' designation on the official team employment roster.

``We can't comment any further because we are still gathering information,'' Lockett said.

A message for Rydze wasn't immediately returned.

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.

Soares was in Florida on Tuesday for raids conducted by federal and state agents at two Signature Pharmacy stores. Four company officials, including a married couple who are both pharmacists, were arrested.

Prosecutors were expected to ask that the four be extradited to New York during a hearing on Thursday. According to the arrest warrants, all four were indicted on charges of enterprise corruption, criminal sale of a controlled substance, criminal diversion of prescription medications and insurance fraud.

Soares refused to answer most questions about the case, which involves sealed indictments. He said his investigation began after an Albany doctor was arrested for allegedly trafficking in narcotics online.

``I cannot elaborate anymore and I cannot provide you with any more details without compromising an investigation which even at this point is at a very sensitive stage,'' he said.

Arrested on Tuesday were Stan and Naomi Loomis, who own the Signature Pharmacy in downtown Orlando, Stan's brother Mike Loomis and Kirk Calvert, Signature's marketing director. Soares' office identified Signature as a ``producer'' of the illegally distributed drugs.

Also arrested as a result of the New York investigation were three people Soares' office described as ``distributors'' from a Sugar Land, Texas, company called Cellular Nucleonic Advantage.

Before the investigation is complete, Soares' office said, up to 24 people could face charges, including six doctors and three pharmacists.

The Loomis' pharmacy contains a small retail store that sells bodybuilding supplements, a drug laboratory and executive offices.

Investigators loaded boxes into a truck and seized drugs, including anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, said Carl Metzger, narcotics commander for Orlando's Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation.

``I can't tell you what percentage of their business was legal and how much involved stacking steroids, but there was a mix,'' Metzger said.

Soares' office alleged that Signature filled prescriptions, in some cases from unlicensed doctors, knowing they had not met patients. The office said at least $250,000 in illegal and controlled substances were sold directly into Albany County, and New York State sales exceeded $10 million.

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