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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Updated: March 1, 5:30 PM ET
Report: Athletes received illegal 'roids via online ring

ESPN.com news services

The West Coast had BALCO. Now the East Coast could be in the midst of its own steroid scandal.

Evander Holyfield
Holyfield

Gary Matthews Jr.
Matthews

An illicit steroid distribution network, which may be responsible for Internet sales of performance-enhancing drugs nationwide, has been targeted by an upstate New York prosecutor. Customers reportedly included Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and former baseball star Jose Canseco.

"We have investigated, and are prosecuting, one of the largest narcotics and steroid distributors in the nation," P. David Soares, district attorney of Albany County, N.Y., said in a statement Wednesday.

His comments came a day after federal and state agents raided two pharmacies in Orlando, Fla. So far, eight people in three states have been arrested, and prosecutors say 24 could face felony charges by the time their investigation is over.

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• The couple at the center of the Orlando pharmacy raid once said all they wanted to sell was hormone replacement, not anabolic steroids, Tom Farrey writes. Story

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• As the subject of steroids remains entrenched in the news, the cheaters keep on cheating, with few speed bumps employed by Major League Baseball to slow them down, Buster Olney writes. Blog Insider

Former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley and a doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers were reportedly linked to Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, according to the Times Union of Albany, which first disclosed the widespread investigation.

The paper also said Matthews, Canseco and Holyfield were allegedly on the customer list of Applied Pharmacy Services in Mobile, Ala., whose two owners have been indicted by an Albany County grand jury.

SI.com, meanwhile, 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 Tempe, 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.

Matthews said he did not know why his name was reportedly on Applied's customer list, adding, "That's what we're working on, trying to find out. I will address it at an appropriate time."

When reached by ESPN.com's Mike Fish on Wednesday, Holyfield said he was "not overly concerned about the situation." He said his only link to Alabama and medical services there was the purchase of medication for his father, who died of a heart ailment in January.

"For years, I bought all his medication out of Alabama," Holyfield said. "My sister takes care of that, every month, all his bills and stuff."

Holyfield took a more pointed stance in a statement released Wednesday night.

"I do not use steroids. I have never used steroids," he said. "I resent that my name has been linked to known steroid users by sources who refuse to be identified in order to generate publicity for their investigation."

Late Wednesday, SI.com reported that the name "Evan Fields" appeared on law enforcement documents reviewed by the Web site in connection with the Mobile investigation. SI.com dialed a phone number associated with "Fields" that was listed on one of the documents, and Holyfield answered the call. "Fields" listed birth date in the document -- Oct. 19, 1962 -- also is the same as Holyfield's.

According to SI.com, the individual who authorities believe to be Holyfield picked up prescriptions that came from Applied Pharmacy. According to records reviewed by SI.com, Holyfield picked up vials of testosterone, two vials of Glukor (a drug believed to be used during and after steroid cycles) and injection supplies. Less than a week later, according to the document, he picked up five vials of Saizen, a brand of HGH, and related supplies.

Meanwhile, 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."

Grimsley's agent, Joe Bick, declined comment, and his attorney did not return a phone call.

Angels owner Arte Moreno said the club was seeking more information about the report, and that he, general manager Bill Stoneman and manager Mike Scioscia were among team officials who met with Matthews on Wednesday.

"We don't have much information, obviously, and you're dealing with the players' association. They really want to get more information," Moreno told AP. "We had a meeting just to basically tell him how we felt, that we're not going to ask you any questions until you're able to tell us, but we'd like you to be straight up with us."

Investigators say they've found evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed to users who included professional and college athletes.

"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, counsel for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said. "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."

Soares has refused to answer most questions about the case, which involves sealed indictments. But he did say his two-year investigation began after an Albany doctor was arrested for allegedly trafficking in narcotics online.

"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 Tuesday in Orlando, where federal and state agents raided two Signature Pharmacy stores and arrested four company officials.

"Our focus here is to shut down distribution channels."

And that's what makes this latest steroid investigation so significant, doping officials said.

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.

The Times Union of Albany 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."

The investigation of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative involved some of the biggest names in sports -- Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Jason Giambi -- as well as "designer" steroids, performance-enhancing drugs concocted specifically for elite athletes. But its scope largely has been limited to BALCO, those who worked there and those got performance-enhancing drugs from there.

The Albany investigation, though -- coupled with federal charges filed last week in a similar probe in Providence, R.I. -- is targeting the distribution networks that supply steroids to big-name and no-name users throughout the country. And it's focusing squarely on operations that peddle their illegal wares over the Internet.

According to Albany prosecutors, 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.

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.

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.

Arrested on Tuesday were Stan and Naomi Loomis, who own the Signature Pharmacy, 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' 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.

Regarding the case in Alabama, Tom Wade of the DEA, the resident agent in charge in Mobile, told ESPN.com he believes the distribution network does not have a specific point of origin.

"It didn't originate anywhere. It is being approached in different manners by different judicial districts, both state and federal," Wade told ESPN.com. "I believe it started in other places and leads that came back here [to Alabama]."

Information from ESPN.com investigative reporter Mike Fish and The Associated Press was used in this report.