Suspended Phillie Romero files suit

Updated: April 28, 2009, 8:59 PM ET
By Mark Fainaru-Wada | ESPN.com

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero, suspended for the first 50 games of this season after testing positive for steroids last year, filed a civil lawsuit Monday against a nutritional supplement manufacturer whose owner previously served prison time for distributing steroids.

Romero
Romero

Romero won two games during the Phillies' World Series victory over Tampa Bay, but it was subsequently revealed that he tested positive for a banned substance in late August.

In his lawsuit, Romero states that the positive test resulted from his use of over-the-counter supplements 6-OXO and 6-OXO Extreme. The products are manufactured by ErgoPharm, Inc., a Champaign, Ill.-based company run by Patrick Arnold.

Arnold was the chemist whose designer steroid known as "The Clear" was central to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroids case. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of steroid distribution and served three months in prison and three months of house arrest.

Prior to BALCO, Arnold was well-known as the Father of Prohormones and the man who brought the once-legal supplement Androstenedione, known as Andro, to the American market. Mark McGwire's admitted use of the testosterone-boosting agent during his record-breaking home run season of 1998 helped spike sales of the supplement. Andro ultimately was made illegal. Romero tested positive for Andro, according to the lawsuit, which suggests that the 6-OXO Extreme could have become contaminated during manufacturing of the supplement.

In a statement issued Tuesday by Arnold, the chemist wrote that Romero is mistaken in his allegation that 6-OXO Extreme contained andro and that the product did not warn of potential problems that could arise for athletes using the substance. Arnold noted a warning on labels of 6-OXO Extreme that states: "Use of this product may be banned by some athletic or government associations [including military]."

In January, partly as a result of the Romero case, Arnold's lab was raided by agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. A federal probe is being run out of the DEA's Boston office. Romero's lawsuit states that he purchased the products first at The Vitamin Shoppe in Cherry Hill, N.J., and then at a General Nutrition Centers store in his hometown of Fairhope, Ala. Both companies are based in Delaware.

In each case, Romero was assured by the salesperson that the supplements would not cause him to test positive for steroids, according to the lawsuit. Also, Romero claims he did research on 6-OXO, 6-OXO Extreme and ErgoPharm's other products. Romero "satisfied himself through his research that neither contained any substances that were banned and/or prohibited from use by Major League Baseball," the suit states.

At various Web sites on the Internet, 6-OXO Extreme is touted as a product for "maximum testosterone production FOR HARDCORE USERS ONLY;" a "testosterone booster" that will "raise endogenous testosterone production;" and a supplement that "stimulates levels well into the supraphysiological range."

"In a time of well documented steroid scandals, increased scrutiny of athletes, allegations of contaminated supplements and improved drug testing protocols," Arnold wrote in response to Romero's lawsuit, "if an athlete chooses to ignore an explicit warning on the label of a dietary supplement product, fails to conduct reasonable inquiry, and thereafter the athlete tests positive for a banned substance, the athlete should take responsibility for their actions. If he refuses to do so, and attempts to blame others, his claims should be properly rejected both within the legal system and in the court of public opinion."

6-OXO also is marketed as an "aromatase inhibitor," which means it works to enhance natural production of testosterone. Aromatase inhibitors are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but not in baseball. Andro, however, is banned by the sport.

David Cornwell, one of Romero's three attorneys, responded to Arnold's statements questioning why the company failed to mention androstenedione.

"One should consider the source and the fact that the statement fails to address the presence of androstenedione, a controlled substance, in 6-OXO EXTREME," Cornwell wrote in a two-sentence e-mail to the Associated Press. "In my opinion, after injury and age, companies like Proviant may be the next greatest threat to the careers of athletes who use nutritional supplements."

In a previous interview unrelated to the Romero case, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief science director Larry Bowers told ESPN that Arnold's 6-OXO products were cause for red flags among athletes.

"He comes right out and says aromatase inhibitor," Bowers said. "So from the point of view of the Olympic athlete, they should be cautious when seeing something like that and be familiar with it. I don't think he's trying to mislead in that sense, at least for the Olympic athlete."

But Bowers did say USADA's analysis of the substance indicated it had anabolic qualities as well.

Mark Fainaru-Wada is a reporter on ESPN's enterprise unit. He can be reached at markfwespn@gmail.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.