- Bonnie D. Ford, Enterprise and Olympic Sports
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Wayne Odesnik arrived in Brisbane, Australia on a Qantas flight last Jan. 2 without his luggage, setting off a series of events that led him to plead guilty to importing human growth hormone, according to Australian court documents.
ESPN.com this week obtained transcripts of the court hearing and magistrate's ruling in Odesnik's case from the Brisbane Magistrates Court. In it, details of Odesnik's case emerged, largely for the first time.
When Odesnik's misplaced bags were located at the Brisbane airport two days later, customs officers found eight vials of human growth hormone and other medical paraphernalia in a routine search. They interviewed the 24-year-old American tennis player at his hotel room on Jan. 5, and charged him with importing HGH on Jan 6.
Odesnik did not appear in person for a March 11 hearing -- he was in Indian Wells, Calif., where the following day he lost in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open. He instructed defense lawyer James Godbolt to enter a guilty plea on his behalf. Odesnik's conviction was recorded by Magistrate Graham C. Lee on March 25 and announced by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service the next day.
According to the file:
• Among Odesnik's belongings was a box containing seven vials of six milligrams apiece of Serostim, a brand name for Somatropin, a form of biosynthetic human growth hormone. The label had been torn off the box. An eighth vial was found in a Styrofoam box in a separate plastic bag, which also held 10 syringes and several small bottles of Bacteriostatic water (sterile water containing a small amount of benzyl alcohol) which is used to dilute drugs for injection. "The defendant confirmed that the HGH was in his bag when he checked it in," said Chris Zeilinga, the attorney representing the Australian government.
• When interviewed by the customs officers, Odesnik repeatedly said he had a doctor's prescription for HGH to aid his recovery from a potentially "career-threatening injury." He later admitted through his lawyer that he had ordered the HGH from the Internet and did not provide the name of a consulting doctor or a description of the injury. Zeilinga noted that Odesnik competed in both the Brisbane International and the Australian Open tournaments that month and appeared to be "in a fit condition to play." (Odesnik played in 26 tournaments from January to November 2009 and does not appear to have taken significant time off.)
• Odesnik told the officers that he didn't intend to use HGH until he had "approval." However, there is no indication that he had taken any steps to fill out required paperwork for that purpose.
• WADA, the ITF, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and Tennis Australia were all notified of the allegations against Odesnik within days after he was charged. There are several references to the fact that the ITF was waiting for the court case to be concluded before initiating proceedings against Odesnik.
• The ITF's anti-doping regulations were introduced as an exhibit in the case, and the two lawyers made opposing arguments about whether the prospect of sanctions from the ITF should be a factor in Odesnik's sentencing. Zeilinga urged the magistrate not to take that into account, calling the ITF's process completely independent. Godbolt asked for leniency, noting the financial impact of Odesnik's potential two-year suspension from tennis.
• In the course of discussing how much to fine Odesnik, Godbolt invoked the example of actor Sylvester Stallone, who tried to bring 48 vials of HGH (as well as testosterone) into the country in 2007 and was assessed $2,800 plus $7,640 in court costs. Odesnik ultimately was fined $7,453 (the maximum is $20,500) and ordered to pay $1,065 in court costs.
HGH, banned under the World Anti-Doping Agency's code, also cannot be brought into Australia for personal use or used there without a prescription. It was one of a number of performance-enhancing drugs added to a list of prohibited imports by Australian customs officials in 1999 and 2000 as part of the government's "Tough on Drugs in Sport" policy leading up to the Sydney Olympics.
Odesnik played at the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships last week in Houston, where he reached the semifinals. Officials from the International Tennis Federation and the ATP acknowledged they were investigating Odesnik but said they could not prevent him from competing in the meantime. He faces sanctions including a two-year suspension from tennis authorities.
Excerpts from Magistrate Graham C. Lee's ruling in the Odesnik case:
"Mr. Odesnik is an elite athlete who should have been well aware of the sensitivities in having possession of the vials without first obtaining appropriate approvals. When speaking with customs officers, Mr. Odesnik in my view tried to cover up his possession of these vials on the basis that he had a career-ending injury and that a doctor had prescribed the vials of Serostim to him ... this turned out to be incorrect. While he subsequently offered information through his lawyers that he bought them off the Internet, in my view that is a token level of cooperation only I found Mr. Odesnik's explanation for his possession of the vials to be unsatisfactory to say the least.
"It is clear that Mr. Odesnik initially did not cooperate fully with customs officers by telling them that he had a prescription for the vials when he didn't.
"Given that Mr. Odesnik is a professional international tennis player who ought to have known better and for reasons previously outlined, my view is that personal deterrence is an important factor in this case ... While he may well be banned from playing for at least one year under the (ITF's anti-doping program), personal deterrence remains important in the event he returns to the international tennis circuit.
"General deterrence is an important factor in sentencing Mr. Odesnik, who is an elite athlete coming into this country in possession of a prohibited substance, Serostim ... He must have been aware of this. If not, given his professional status as an international tennis player, he should have been aware of it. In my view, this is a case that calls for strong general deterrence so that other elite athletes who are considering similar activities will think twice before doing so.
"The issue of anti-doping violation rules is part and parcel of his job as a professional tennis player."
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wayne Odesnik arrived in Brisbane, Australia on a Qantas flight last Jan. 2 without his luggage, setting off a series of events which led him pleading guilty to importing human growth hormone, according to Australian court documents.