Anit-Aging Clinic Charged with Steroids Conspiracy

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

A pharmacy and doctor who ran an "anti-aging" clinic became the latest targets of an investigation into illegal steroid use that already has led to a suicide and random drug testing at the New York Police Department.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced
indictments Tuesday against Dr. Richard Lucente and his New York
Anti-Aging & Wellness Medical Services on Staten Island. A third
defendant is Lowen's Pharmacy in Brooklyn.

All three defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy;
Lucente faces 76 additional counts of criminal sale of a controlled
substance and one count of reckless endangerment in the death of a
bodybuilder.

Prosecutors allege that Lucente wrote prescriptions to patients
who had no medical need for them, and steered them to Lowen's in
return for nearly $30,000 in kickbacks. Lucente also collected
about $500,000 in fees from about 220 clients who were provided
with steroids or other illegal substances, Hynes said.

"He gained a reputation as someone who would sell ... to any
bodybuilder, weightlifter or athlete," Hynes said.

Lucente, 37, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Tuesday and
was released on $20,000 bail. He refused to speak to reporters
outside court. His lawyer, John Meringolo, called the charges
"absurd."

Meringolo said his client was a community doctor with years of
experience providing medical care and emotional support to
patients.

"He helped people. He saved people's lives," Meringolo said.
"We believe he will be vindicated at trial."

Lucente faces 5 1/2 years on each of the 76 counts of criminal
sale of a controlled substance.

Lowen's pharmacy first made headlines in 2007, when state
narcotics agents raided it and seized nearly $8 million in human
growth hormone and anabolic steroids.

Those raids were part of a probe by the Albany County district
attorney's office into steroids-peddling clinics and pharmacies in
Florida, Alabama, New York and Texas. After the raid, Brooklyn
authorities began investigating.

The owner of Lowen's pharmacy, John Rossi, fatally shot himself
last year amid the criminal probe. Rossi, 56, was named in former
Sen. George Mitchell's report on drug use in baseball. The other
owners of the pharmacy are not charged in the case.

Lowen's, which for decades was known as an old-fashioned
neighborhood pharmacy in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, could
be fined and possibly shut down if convicted.

"The Lowen's companies are currently inactive and have been for
quite some time due to the tragic death of their principal," said
pharmacy attorney Richard Signorelli. "I hope that today will be
the first step of a process that will involve ending this
unfortunate situation for the family of the deceased."

While the indictment was announced a day after Yankees slugger
Alex Rodriguez admitted he took steroids while playing for the
Texas Rangers from 2001-03, Brooklyn prosecutors said the timing of
the indictment was unrelated.

Prosecutors said Lucente was known in gyms around the city for
his willingness to write prescriptions for weightlifters and
bodybuilders who wanted to bulk up fast. Business was so lucrative
at his clinic that he shifted his focus from osteopathy almost
entirely to illegally providing steroids, Hynes said.

Staten Island bodybuilder Joe Baglio, who had undergone a heart
transplant, received steroids illegally from Lucente and died of
heart failure, Hynes said. But Meringolo said Baglio had gall
bladder surgery shortly before his death and that there was no
proof Lucente's involvement had lead to his death.

Records seized from Lowen's indicated that its clientele
included several NYPD officers who worked out at the same gym,
prompting an internal affairs investigation and random drug
testing.

Investigators questioned 17 officers. Of those, nine - including
six who failed steroid tests - were disciplined by being docked
vacation days and put on probation. Another eight officers have
tested positive since random testing began in January 2008.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the NYPD has a strict
anti-steroid policy. "You can't use steroids when you're in the
department," Kelly said Tuesday.

It is not illegal in New York for a pharmacy to dispense
steroids and human growth hormone for valid medical purposes, but
their activities are regulated and it is a crime for a doctor to
prescribe drugs without examining the patient.

Lucente opened the wellness center in 2005 in a building called
"The Fountain of Youth." It has since been shut down.

He graduated in 1998 from the New York College of Osteopathic
Medicine and was chief resident at the Lutheran Medical Center in
2001. He has a family practice on Staten Island and lectured on
male hormone replacement therapy and cardiovascular risk

(Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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