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NY investigation leads to raid of Orlando pharmacy

3/1/2007 - MLB NFL

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.