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A mail-order steroid kit from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Fla. (Will Waldron / Times Union)

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Law enforcement officers launch a raid at Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Fla. Feb. 27, 2007. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)

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Albany DA raids Fla. steroids center
Yearlong investigation of Internet drug sales may expose use by pro athletes
 
By BRENDAN J. LYONS, Senior writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.
Last updated: 8:18 p.m., Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Copyright Times Union

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A downtown pharmacy was raided by a law enforcement task force on Tuesday, the climax of a large New York state grand jury investigation into Internet drug sales that could expose widespread illicit steroid use by professional athletes and thousands of people across the nation.

The unprecedented inquiry, led by Albany County's district attorney, has taken New York narcotics agents and an Orlando-based federal task force deep inside a maze of shadowy pharmacies and Web sites that have reaped millions of dollars in profit by allegedly exploiting federal and state prescription laws, according to court records.

More than two dozen doctors, pharmacists and business owners have been, or will be, arrested in the coming days in Alabama, Texas, Florida and New York on sealed indictments charging them with various felonies for unlawfully distributing steroids and other controlled substances, records show.

The Times Union has learned that investigators in the year-old case, which has been kept quiet until now, uncovered evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been fraudulently prescribed over the Internet to current and former Major League Baseball players, National Football League players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another leading contender in the bodybuilding competition.

The customers include Los Angeles Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Sources also said investigators from the New York Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, which is part of the state Department of Health, recently interviewed a top physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers about his alleged purchase last year of roughly $150,000 of testosterone and human growth hormone.

In the past several years, Internet-based pharmacies have become the new drug delivery system for tens of thousands of customers nationwide, displacing smugglers, overseas mail-order companies and so-called ``gym rat'' dealers who sell steroids from the trunks of their cars, according to state and federal investigators.

Tuesday's raid of Signature Pharmacy, an Orlando business that collected an estimated $36 million in revenue last year, could expose a long list of sports figures, celebrities and others who have turned to Internet pharmacies for illegal drugs such as steroids, authorities said.

``I don't know the names of a lot of the athletes,'' Lt. Carl Metzger, commander of the Orlando Metropolitan Bureau of Enforcement, said during Tuesday's raid.

``This is a criminal investigation, not an administative investigation,'' Metzger told a gaggle of TV reporters at the scene. ``I think that some of their business was legitimate,'' he said, adding that ``much of it was illegal.''

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