Two Columbia residents were indicted Monday on federal drug trafficking charges in connection with the largest black market steroid investigation in U.S. history, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri said. Two other Missourians were also charged last week as part of the operation.
The 21-month-long international probe targeted the illegal manufacturing and trafficking of anabolic steroids and its raw materials, mainly from China. More than 120 people in 27 states were arrested as part of the sting, known as Operation Raw Deal.
“This case underscores the scope of the problem of dangerous performance-enhancing drugs that are being processed in crude, homemade labs and distributed with no regulatory safeguards,” said John Wood, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, in a news release Monday.
Bryan Greggory Wilson, 38, who maintained homes in Columbia and Kansas City, and April Dawn Wilson, 32, of Columbia, were charged with conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids and one count of distributing anabolic steroids as part of the Missouri-focused sting, dubbed Operation Juice Box.
According to the indictment, Bryan Wilson sent wire transfers to distributors in Qingdao, a coastal province in eastern China, in exchange for raw steroid powder. He then converted the powder to pill and liquid form at his Columbia home, federal authorities say, and sold the substances to online buyers under the names Pro Pharm, Pro Pharm Labs and Palmco, Inc. He and April Wilson received and distributed steroids at the Commerce Station Post Office, 3709 Sandman Lane, said Don Ledford, a spokesman for Wood’s office.
Court documents show that Drug Enforcement Agency agents identified Bryan Wilson in February as the possible operator of an underground anabolic steroid lab. In March, a potential buyer working with authorities logged onto the steroid Web site ChemicallyEvolved.com and found that a company called Pro Pharm Lab was offering anabolic steroids for sale.
In May, DEA special agent Kyle D. Scheer directed the buyer to contact the company via e-mail, inquiring about an order. An e-mail was received instructing the buyer to send $155 in cash inside a birthday card with the following message: “Happy Birthday girl! Here is the rent for the last months I was there. Sorry for send cash, my checks have not arrived yet.”
Video surveillance of Bryan Wilson’s home confirmed that he left with boxes that had U.S. Postal insignia, according to court documents. Federal agents seized the boxes in August and found a plastic resealable bag, wrapped in tape, containing six glass vials of testosterone cypionate and testosterone enanthate, two types of anabolic steroids. The vials had the name “Pro Pharm Laboratories” written on them and a label saying the steroids were an injectable liquid with a prescribed dosage of 200 to 400 milligrams every four weeks.
Post office records show that Bryan Wilson mailed 22 packages from late April through May 23. April Wilson mailed 25 packages in April and then mailed 24 packages in May.
The indictment also states that the Wilsons received one kilogram of steroid powder, shipped from an address in China, at a UPS Store, 503 E. Nifong Blvd. Bryan Wilson was arrested Sept. 15 at the store; April Wilson was arrested at her Columbia home Monday. After Bryan Wilson’s arrest, authorities seized two 200-pound pill presses, $60,000 and other laboratory equipment from his home in Kansas City.
The Wilsons were married but divorced in June 2006, according to court records.
The couple had owned and operated The Smoothie Stop, a fruit drink stand located inside the Maximum Edge Discount Sport Supplement Store, 2703 E. Broadway. The business opened in March 2005 but both federal authorities and Columbia police said the store was not tied to the steroid investigation.
Another central Missouri man — Jason Ray Varner, 33, of Jefferson City — was indicted last week on possession with intent to distribute anabolic steroids. According to the indictment, a steroid distributor cooperating with federal authorities met Varner at a commuter parking lot, near the intersection of Route AC and Highway 63, to deliver a shipment of steroids. Varner had ordered about $10,000 worth of the drug and had already received half before the meeting, the indictment states.
The distributor told authorities that he was scheduled to deliver about $5,000 worth of steroids to Varner. On Sept. 14, the distributor, identified in court documents only as “CS” for “cooperating source,” received a text message from Varner asking, “how are we looking?” Varner later indicated that he needed about 188 vials of steroids, according to court documents.
The distributor had previously mailed steroid shipments to customers in Illinois and Kentucky. Authorities intercepted those packages and used the vials for the Varner meeting.
Both Varner and the distributor left their vehicles and “CS” placed the vials on the floorboard of Varner’s car. After he was detained, Varner told authorities that he had been purchasing steroids from the source for about a year. During a later search of Varner’s home, authorities found 44 vials of anabolic steroids.
Columbia police were asked by the DEA to help investigate the Wilsons and Varner in April in connection with the steroid probe, said Sgt. Scott Young, supervisor of the Columbia Police Department’s Narcotics Unit.
“We’ve helped out with federal investigations but never anything on this scale,” Young said.
He said a narcotics detective performed surveillance of the Wilsons for federal authorities.
“(Bryan Wilson) would actually fill orders on the Internet, which were precursors to the final pill production here in the U.S.,” Young said.
Young declined to say how much the Wilsons or Varner might have profited from the steroid operation but said the suspects “made more money in a month than most people make in a year.”
Young described Varner, who works for a construction business, as a “lower-level distributor.”
The third indictment charges Mikal Gunn Schrage, 28, of Nixa, with possession with the intent to distribute anabolic steroids.
According to court documents, Schrage was arrested on an outstanding warrant Sept. 1 by a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper during a traffic stop in Greene County. The trooper discovered five pounds of anabolic steroids in powder form and at least 10,000 milliliters of liquid anabolic steroids. The trooper also found counterfeit Spanish-language labels, boxes and holograms purportedly for Powerline brand steroids.
As part of Operation Raw Deal, federal authorities seized 56 steroid labs across the country, as well as 11.4 million steroid dosage units and 242 kilograms of raw steroid powder of Chinese origin. About 50 people were arrested and 61 search warrants were executed during the operation’s final stages, which began Sept. 14.
— Renee DuBose and Derek Kravitz contributed to this report.