Raids across US said to target illegal steroid distribution
18-month probe spurs 120 arrests, seizure of drugs
PROVIDENCE - Federal authorities announced yesterday the largest crackdown on illegal steroids in the nation's history, arresting more than 120 people in multiple cities and raiding dozens of labs that manufactured growth hormone for sale on the black market.
Agents seized 56 labs, many in dirty basements, and recovered 11.4 million doses of steroids, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"We were a little bit stunned at the amount of labs we found as a result of this investigation," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said in Washington. "It's not something that's on a scale that we've ever seen."
The announcement follows a growing number of scandals in the sports world over steroids, but authorities said the probe was focused on distributors, not users, and that no professional athletes were directly involved.
US investigators were helped by governments of nine other countries, including China, which is hosting the 2008 Olympics. Among those facing charges are a Chinese manufacturer accused of smuggling human growth hormone into the United States and others who allegedly got steroids from China and sold them to US customers.
The probe, dubbed Operation Raw Deal, targeted manufacturers of raw materials needed to produce steroids, as well as underground steroid labs in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Agents also investigated websites that offered kits to convert steroids from powder into injectable forms and Internet discussion boards frequented by bodybuilders.
"Even though their storefront is the Internet, rather than the street corner, the people who engage in the smuggling and distribution of these substances are drug dealers, plain and simple, and we will treat them accordingly," said Robert Clark Corrente, US attorney for Rhode Island. Federal prosecutors in San Diego, New York, Houston, Kansas City, and New Haven made similar announcements.
The labs' customers could include high school athletes, bodybuilders, and ordinary adults who want to look better, officials said.
"As we start to dig into this, I would have to believe that we're going to find customers who are in fact high school kids," said Steve Robertson, another DEA spokesman.
The DEA said 143 federal search warrants were issued during the 18-month investigation, many of them since Thursday. The FBI, Internal Revenue Service, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Food and Drug Administration were also involved.
In New York, five people accused of operating illicit steroid labs known as "Bodiez by Design" and "Strong Island Underground" were indicted on charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
In Connecticut, four men were charged with purchasing raw steroid powder from China, manufacturing steroids in home laboratories and distributing them to customers through a MySpace.com profile and a website.
And in Rhode Island, a Chinese corporation and its chief executive were indicted on federal charges of smuggling illegal human growth hormone into the United States. Genescience Pharmaceutical Co. and its CEO, Lei Jin, are accused of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate the sale of smuggled goods.
Federal agents have seized $3.4 million traced to the alleged smuggling from two New York branches of Chinese banks. Jin is believed to be living in Shanghai and is not in custody.
Other countries participating in the investigation were Mexico, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and Thailand.