Prosecutor: Celebrities And Athletes Received Illegal Steroids In Ring

Tuesday, February 27th 2007, 9:40 pm
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A New York prosecutor said athletes and celebrities were involved as customers of an illicit steroid sales network that produced arrests of four company officials on Tuesday.

However, Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares declined to name any consumers. He said his office was not investigating patients, but alleged producers and distributors, including doctors and pharmacists.

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

Soares was in Florida on Tuesday for two pharmacy 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. They were charged with criminal diversion of prescription medications and prescriptions, criminal sale of a controlled substance and insurance fraud.

Soares refused to answer most questions about the case, which involves sealed indictments.

``I cannot elaborate any more 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.

The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., first disclosed the steroid investigation in a report citing unidentified sources. The newspaper 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.

Customers include Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to the Times Union, which cited unidentified sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Angels spokesman Tim Mead told The Associated Press the team was aware of the story, adding, ``That's the only information we have.''

Mead said manager Mike Scioscia told Matthews about it, and that general manager Bill Stoneman and Mead spoke to Matthews.

``We strongly recommended that Gary inform his agent and make sure he's aware as well,'' Mead said. ``The information is sketchy at best.''

The paper said a New York investigator flew to Pittsburgh last month to interview a physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers about why he allegedly used a personal credit card to purchase roughly $150,000 in testosterone and human growth hormone in 2006.

The physician, Richard A. 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.

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 Sugarland, 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' downtown 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.

Metzger said the search revealed a ``raid card'' at numerous Signature Pharmacy employees' desks with contact information for lawyers. The top of the documents identified it as a Food and Drug Administration/Drug Enforcement Agency telephone list, but only lawyers were on the card, Metzger said.

``We found that to be somewhat interesting,'' Metzger said. ``Why would you need to have something entitled a phone call list for the DEA and FDA with lawyers' names if you have nothing to hide?''

Soares' office alleges 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.

Soares said his investigation began after an Albany doctor was arrested for allegedly trafficking in narcotics online.