Feds sifting through steroid customer lists

Wednesday, September 26, 2007 | 8:44 p.m. CDT; updated 12:29 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Federal authorities say they are still trying to decide what to do with the names of thousands of customers obtained from an international black market steroid sting.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Rogene Waite said the agency has not ruled out prosecuting the customers implicated in Operation Raw Deal, the largest steroid investigation in U.S. history, which was announced Monday.

“We’re still looking at what we’re going to be doing with the information,” she said.

Waite declined to give any detailed information about the end-users and would not speculate if, or when, anyone would be prosecuted. She also declined to say if the names of athletes implicated in the probe would be released.

DEA Special Agent Don Mendrala said the agency so far has only focused on suppliers.

“We really focus on the source of supplies, we don’t really move into users,” Mendrala said. “We try to move up as opposed to moving down. We use the phrase ‘cutting the head off of the dragon.’”

The operations more than 120 arrests included four Missourians. Bryan Greggory Wilson, 38, who maintains 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.

Jason Ray Varner, 33, of Jefferson City, was indicted on possession with intent to distribute anabolic steroids. Mikal Gunn Schrage, 28, of Nixa, was indicted on the same charge, but investigators said the two did not work together.

But it was the Wilsons, who divorced in 2006 and owned a smoothie shop on East Broadway, who are described in court documents as the ringleaders of a Missouri-based anabolic steroid operation.

April Wilson pleaded guilty to misusing the 911 emergency system in August 2006 and received one year unsupervised probation, according to online court records.

Bryan Wilson pleaded guilty in April 2001 to possession of a controlled substance and served five years of probation. He also pleaded guilty to third-degree domestic assault in December.

Also in December, seven months after Wilson finished his probation, a post on the steroid Web forum indicated that he was back in business. The post, authored by the user “Pro Pharm,” read: “New Year is a comin ... and so is Pro Pharm Labs. Look for me soon in the classifieds.”

Investigators, who first identified Wilson as a suspect in February, say he operated under the names Pro Pharm, Pro Pharm Labs and Palmco, Inc. Several users on the forum indicated that Pro Pharm was one of their preferred suppliers.

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.

Several users commented about Operation Raw Deal when the news broke Tuesday. One post reads, “instead of spending all that time and money on something that’s ruining peoples lives even killing them like herion, coke, chrystal meth, and so on, they spent it on something that enhances they way we look.”

The Web forum also provided a primer for new steroid users to learn about the drugs. The two steroids identified by investigators in the Wilsons’ case, testosterone cypionate and testosterone enanthate, are both classified as “long-acting” and “large-mass” steroids. The post says those two substances are good for building body mass, with no consideration for weight gain. These steroids, according to the post, are not ideal for athletes who must watch their weight.

The primer also describes cycles — the practice of taking multiples doses for several weeks and then stopping. Different cycles have different functions, such as building mass, cutting fat or maintaining muscle gains. Often several drugs are combined to form a “stack” to create an effect “that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” according to the primer.

The forum also has several posts intended to keep users safe. One post warns users not to drink while on their cycle. There is a category devoted to post-cycle therapy. And one user posted graphic pictures that encourage the use of sterile needles.

John Wood, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is prosecuting the Wilsons, Varner and Schrage under the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990, which states that anabolic steroids are illegal to possess or sell without a prescription. In 2004, the act was expanded, categorizing 59 specific substances as anabolic steroids.

Offenders who possess the drugs can face up to one year in prison, and first-time traffickers can face five years. That sentence can be doubled for repeat offenders or those who sell the drugs near sports facilities.

Don Ledford, a spokesman for Wood’s office, said Bryan Wilson faces a maximum sentence of 10 years and the other three defendants each face five-year sentences. All four are out on bond, he said.

Ledford said that although criminal trials are under way for many suppliers, the DEA’s investigation into potential customers is only just beginning.

“It takes time to analyze the lists,” he said. “You have to build a case and look at the evidence for each person. There’s still work to be done.”

Renee DuBose contributed to this article.

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