Report: Athletes received illegal 'roids via online ring

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

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.

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

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

"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

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.