18 People Charged In Calif. Over Steroid Links

More than 120 people were arrested and dozens of steroid labs shut down in a global investigation into steroid trafficking over the Internet that began in San Diego, federal officials said Monday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the investigation, dubbed Operation Raw Deal, was assisted by governments of nine other countries, including China.

In the U.S., agents seized 56 labs that manufactured anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, the DEA said. Agents seized 11.4 million doses of drugs in all.

Federal prosecutors in California launched their 18-month probe into Chinese sources of raw steroid powder after successfully disrupting Mexican steroid manufacturing networks in 2005, when eight Mexican companies and 11 executives were indicted for allegedly selling $56 million worth of the drug in the U.S. Six of those companies have entered guilty pleas and agreed to fines; the rest of the indictments remain outstanding.

"Now we're learning that the source of those drugs was China," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Coughlin, who is leading the case in San Diego.

"So now we're aiming at the head of the dragon in terms of where the production is coming from." said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Coughlin.

Among those charged, federal authorities say, are a Chinese manufacturer accused of smuggling human growth hormone into the

At least 18 people were charged last week by federal grand juries in California in connection with the investigation.

A couple charged in San Jose with distributing steroids for an Internet company called Stallion Labs were arrested Sept. 16 at the Otay Mesa border crossing near San Diego as they returned to the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico.

Both pleaded not guilty at their arraignments last week in San Diego and are free on bond, according to one of their attorneys, Howard Frank.

Seven indictments were also filed last week in San Diego against
14 people running networks in other states, including Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

Twelve have been arrested on money laundering and conspiracy charges linked to the importation and distribution of steroids, authorities said.

They face up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted; additionally, the distribution companies may be fined up to $4 million.

Two of those were arrested in the resort area of Phuket, Thailand, and are awaiting extradition in connection with a ring that sourced raw steroid powder in China, had it shipped to underground labs in New Jersey and Washington and then sent it to Internet customers from Las Vegas, according to U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt.

Federal authorities in Sacramento announced two arrests.

Ryan Hanson, 27, of Chico, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Sacramento and arrested Friday on a charge of possessing
anabolic steroids with intent to distribute.

He had been under investigation since May as part of the worldwide probe, officials said.

Hanson, who worked as a bouncer at a Chico bar, was being held without bond.

Separately, a Fresno grand jury indicted Tyler Stumbo, 23, of Bakersfield, also on Thursday.

He was arrested in Berkeley the same day and freed on $100,000 bond for a Sept. 27 court appearance.

A search of Stumbo's Bakersfield home uncovered an underground steroid laboratory with steroidal powder, liquid and pills in various stages of production, authorities said.

They seized 160 vials containing about 15.5 pounds of steroids.

In addition, information from the search and Stumbo's arrest led to the seizure of 25 pounds of steroid powder in Tennessee, said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott. His arrest was the result of an investigation that began in January.

Each man faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The seizures and arrests follow a growing number of scandals in the sports world over steroid abuse, but Coughlin cited ongoing investigations and declined to say whether any professional or college athletes had been identified out of the thousands of customer names retrieved from the targeted Web distributors.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency cooperated with the investigation and is reviewing client lists for each of the indicted companies, said chief executive officer Travis Tygart.

No athletes subject to USADA authority have been identified so far, he said.

DEA spokesman Michael Sanders said 143 federal search warrants were issued during the 18-month investigation, many of them since Thursday.

The FBI, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Food and Drug Administration were also involved.

A Chinese corporation and its chief executive were indicted in Rhode Island on federal charges of smuggling illegal human growth hormone into the country in connection with the operation.

Genescience Pharmaceutical Co. and its CEO, Lei Jin, are accused of
marketing the drugs, under the brand name Jinotropin, through e-mail and Web sites.

Jin, who authorities say has an address in Madison, Wis., is believed to be living in Shanghai and is not in custody.

In all, investigators seized over 500 pounds of raw ingredients for steroid manufacture that originated in China.

"China really stepped up to the plate to help us in this investigation," DEA spokesman Garrison Courtney said in Washington.

Other countries participating in the investigation were Mexico, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Thailand.

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