Athletes Accused In Illicit Steroid Ring

Athletes were involved as customers of an illicit steroid distribution network that led authorities to raid two pharmacies in Orlando and arrest four company officials, a New York prosecutor said.

Albany County (N.Y.) District Attorney P. David Soares refused to identify any steroid recipients, saying prosecutors were focused on producers and distributors.

Customers include Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to the Times Union of Albany, which first disclosed the investigation, citing unidentified sources. Matthews would not answer specific questions about the story Wednesday.

"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."

Matthews, speaking to reporters at the Angels' spring training camp in Mesa, 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 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 appropriate time."

Soares was in Florida on Tuesday for raids conducted by federal and state agents 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. He said his investigation began after an Albany doctor was arrested for allegedly trafficking in narcotics online.

"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.

The Times Union said investigators found 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.

The paper 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 about $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 Associated Press 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 for Rydze was not immediately returned.

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' pharmacy contains a small retil 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.

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.

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