Alleged dealer boasts of pro sales

Updated: May 28, 2009, 9:06 AM ET
By T.J. Quinn | ESPN.com

A Lakeland, Fla., steroid bust brought national interest Wednesday as federal law enforcement officials and Major League Baseball investigators turned their attention to the case.

Richard Thomas of Lakeland, arrested Tuesday with his wife, Sandra, on 21 state charges of importing and possessing steroids and other controlled drugs, told police that he had provided drugs to numerous professional athletes, although he hasn't named them, Polk Co. Sheriff Grady Judd said.

"We asked him if he'd sold to major professional athletes, and his quote was, 'You name the sport, we've sold to them,'" Judd said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "He didn't name specifics, but he said he had dealt with [players for] the Washington Nationals and the Capitals."

However, two sources indicated that the steroids seized at the Thomas house aren't the variety typically used by athletes who are subject to regular drug testing. The steroids itemized in the arrest affidavits generally stay in the system for a relatively long period of time.

"It is more the veterninary type steroids and not the nice commercially compounded stuff," one of the sources said.

The raid was a joint effort between the Polk County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, after ICE officials in Philadelphia told Judd's department that a steroid shipment was expected at the Thomas' home.

Judd said MLB officials called his office Wednesday morning and offered their cooperation, but his office said it had not heard from the NHL or other leagues.

Judd said a cooperative Thomas proudly admitted that he was "the biggest steroid dealer in central Florida," and had received steroids from all over the world.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa said no federal charges have been filed, but a law enforcement source said either that office or the U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia is expected take over the investigation.

Sandra Thomas was released on $215,000 bond on Wednesday afternoon, while Richard Thomas remained in jail. An employee at Rico Bail Bonds in Lakeland said that Sandra Thomas quickly left the county jail after being released to avoid a crush of reporters and had not yet been to the bond agent's office to fill out her required paperwork. Messages left at the Thomas' home had not been returned as of Wednesday evening.

A spokeswoman for Judd's office said ICE and sheriff's office detectives were combing through the Thomas' records and were compiling information that could include the names of any athletes to whom they might have provided steroids.

"The Washington Capitals have no knowledge of any aspect of this allegation," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. "Capitals players were subjected to no-notice testing three times in each of the past two seasons pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and there was no indication of any improper conduct or wrongdoing. Even though there are no specifics provided in the story and we have no reason, at this point, to believe the allegations are true, the National Hockey League takes all matters of this nature very seriously and will conduct a prompt investigation."

Judd said that investigators were expecting to find a small shipment when they raided the Thomas' home, but that detectives called him Tuesday night to say this was no ordinary bust.

"They said you need to come down here tonight," Judd said. "I went down there and there was every kind of steroid you could imagine."

Judd said he was stopped by a fellow member of the Rotary Club during lunch Wednesday, who told him that he had purchased steroids from Thomas 10 years earlier while in high school.

T. J. Quinn is an investigative reporter for ESPN. He can be reached at tjquinn31@yahoo.com. Mike Fish, an investigative reporter for ESPN.com, and Pierre LeBrun, who covers hockey for ESPN.com, also contributed to this report.

T.J. Quinn joined ESPN in November 2007 as an investigative reporter for ESPN's Enterprise Unit, which is charged with developing long-form, investigative features to be presented across multiple platforms.