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Customers Become Focus Of Steroid Probe
By JOSH KOVNER
NEW HAVEN - Federal law officers, who have busted a Connecticut man and five others accused of peddling steroids on MySpace.com and other Internet sites, are now focusing their attention on the dozens of state residents who bought the illegal drugs.
U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor wants to know whether children or teenagers, coaches or teachers were among the patrons. The case is a local offshoot of an international steroids crackdown that has netted dozens of arrests.
Of the six people charged in the Connecticut case, four men - three from Arizona and one from Pennsylvania - were indicted together on charges that they sold steroids through a MySpace.com profile called "anabolic-ss."
A fifth man, Alan R. Blair of Wilton, pleaded guilty Monday in Hartford to distributing human growth hormone through the website www.jintropin.com.
A sixth man, from Florida, pleaded guilty to mailing steroids to buyers, including Connecticut residents, who contacted him through his MySpace profile.
The use of the MySpace site "raises a red flag that they are trying to market to minors," O'Connor said Monday at a press conference.
He said agents will work to identify the buyers, an unusual step because possession of a small amount of steroids is a misdemeanor that federal law officers do not normally pursue.
"But they're going to get a knock on the door, just to wake some folks up. If they're minors, then we have an obligation to let their parents know," O'Connor said.
He said there's no evidence that any professional athletes are among the Connecticut buyers.
The 18-month Connecticut investigation, dubbed Operation Phony Pharm, involved local FBI agents who posed as online customers and ordered steroids over the Internet. The tactic was similar to what The Courant did in a November 2005 series that helped to shed light on the black-market steroids racket.
The FBI's Connecticut probe parallels an international crackdown by federal law officers on steroid labs and distributors that was announced Monday.
That effort, dubbed Operation Raw Deal, has resulted in more than 120 arrests and the dismantling of 56 steroids labs.
Raw Deal, O'Connor said, focused on manufacturers and major suppliers in China, the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, while Phony Pharm targeted distributors.
O'Connor noted that the four-man ring bought raw steroid powder from China and manufactured anabolic steroids in home labs. He said the drugs could easily have been contaminated.
The steroids that The Courant purchased online for the 2005 series were tainted with everything from heavy metals to a banned, cancer-causing cattle fattener, tests found.
"This is a public safety issue," O'Connor said. "That's one reason we want to do this outreach [to the buyers]. There could be all sorts of health concerns."
O'Connor was joined at the press conference by Kimberly Mertz, head of the FBI in Connecticut, and by officials of the Food and Drug Administration's criminal investigation division.
Blair, 55, was the only Connecticut resident among the six charged in Operation Phony Pharm. Authorities said he worked out of his house on Mayflower Lane in Wilton, assessed at $500,000, and connected buyers to China-based suppliers of HGH - human growth hormone.
The FDA had warned Blair as far back as five years ago to stop his activities.
"He probably thought the most he could get was a fine. Now he realizes there are real consequences," O'Connor said.
Blair must forfeit $260,000 to the government and faces up to five years in prison. Blair's attorney, Lisa Scolari of New York City, did not immediately return a telephone message Monday. A message left at Blair's home was not returned.
The four men indicted Friday on distribution charges were Edwin Porter, 41, and Matthew Peltz, 36, both of Chandler Ariz.; Tyler Lunn, 27, of Phoenix; and Walter Corey, 37, of Charleroi, Pa. Brian Tompkins, 29, of Deltona, Fla., pleaded guilty to one count of distributing steroids.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said Operation Raw Deal involved the cooperation of nine other countries, including China.
In the U.S., agents seized 56 labs that manufactured anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, the DEA said. In all, agents seized 11.4 million doses of drugs. The seizures and arrests follow a growing number of scandals in the sports world over steroid abuse, but federal authorities in Rhode Island said no professional athletes were directly involved in the investigation.
DEA spokesman Michael Sanders said 143 federal search warrants were issued during the 18-month investigation, many of them since Thursday. The Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Food and Drug Administration were also involved.