NY investigation leads to raid of Orlando pharmacy

Updated: March 1, 2007, 5:30 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Current and former professional and collegiate athletes have reportedly been linked to an Orlando pharmaceutical company that allegedly sold steroids and other performance enhancers over the Internet.

Federal and state narcotics agents raided two pharmacies Tuesday as part of a New York state investigation into the operation.

The Albany, N.Y., Times Union and ABCNews.com are reporting that investigators in the year-old case uncovered 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.

Among the athletes reportedly on the customer list are Los Angeles Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and former major league pitcher Jason Grimsley, according to the Times Union.

Matthews, speaking to reporters at the Angels' spring training camp in Tempe, Ariz., said Wednesday 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 didn't know why is name was reportedly on the client list, adding, "That's what we're working on, trying to find out. I will address it at an appropriate time."

Grimsley, who pitched for 15 seasons, was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball in June after his name was linked to a federal drug probe.

The Times Union 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.

A message was left seeking comment from Rydze.

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 the raids 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.

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.

Victor Conte, the founder and president of BALCO, the Bay Area lab which has been the focal point in the federal steroids probe, said he was not surprised by the raid.

"People from all walks of life now are using performance enhancing substances. From athletes to movie stars, there seems to be an ever-growing need to find a competitive edge," Conte said. "Maybe it's time to fully realize that we are now living in a pharmacologically enhanced society."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.