- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An international drug investigation targeting the global underground trade of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and insulin growth factor has netted 124 arrests, the closure of 56 clandestine steroid labs across the United States and the seizure of 11.4 million individual steroid doses.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents, with law-enforcement authorities in nine countries, made the arrests and seizures on 143 federal search warrants as a culmination to Operation Raw Deal, the largest steroid enforcement action in U.S. history.

Investigators also seized $6.5 million in cash, 25 vehicles, three boats, 27 pill presses and 71 weapons.

“DEA successfully attacked the illegal steroid industry at every level of its distribution network — from the manufacturers in China who supply the raw materials, to the traffickers in the United States who market the deadly doses,” said DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy.

The 18-month probe targeted traffickers accused of importing raw materials for their steroid products from China. DEA officials said more than 530 pounds of raw materials were confiscated during the arrests from Thursday to Sunday in 27 states.

In May, as part of the investigation, a federal grand jury in Baltimore indicted Bradley C. Blum, 36, of Houston, for conspiring to illegally distribute and illegally distributing human growth hormone, which, authorities said, he obtained from a manufacturer in China, and then unlawfully sold to customers in Maryland and elsewhere in the United States.

Authorities said the indictment seeks $863,534 in property and proceeds involved in and traceable to the distribution scheme.

Criminal charges also have been filed this month in several federal districts in the investigation, including California, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The indictments include charges ranging from conspiracy to import anabolic steroids to money laundering.

Chinese authorities cooperated in the probe, targeting 37 companies in that country, one of which has since been shut down. Other enforcement operations in support of the U.S. investigation took place in Mexico, Canada, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Thailand.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the operation also cracked down on underground trafficking of counterfeit medications and Web sites distributing materials that helped in converting raw steroid ingredients into the finished product.

He said the operation featured a four-prong strategy focusing on raw material manufacturers and suppliers in China and other countries; underground anabolic laboratories in the United States, Canada and Mexico; numerous U.S.-based Web sites distributing materials, or conversion kits necessary to convert raw steroid powders into finished products; and Internet bodybuilding discussion boards that are the catalysts for people to learn how to illicitly use, locate and discreetly purchase performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids.

He said worldwide manufacturers of the raw materials needed for steroids use Web sites to market their products and provide guidance to potential customers. Steroid Internet message boards and chat rooms also use the latest technology in an effort to keep their business transactions — and those of their customers — anonymous.

The Web sites, chat rooms and message boards also provide information about how to convert the raw materials into finished steroid products and boast of their ability to resist law-enforcement scrutiny, he said. In addition, the sites promote and often sell “conversion kits” that allow customers to convert raw materials into steroids from home.

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