Sorting out DEA steroid raid
SI's Luis Llosa breaks down largest bust in history
Posted: Tuesday September 25, 2007 2:40PM; Updated: Tuesday September 25, 2007 3:38PM
Since last summer, Sports Illustrated's Luis Fernando Llosa has reported and written extensively about steroids in sports. SI.com caught up with him to get his insight on the latest news, in which the DEA carried out a raid against a global drug network.
SI.com: What was the DEA raid?
Luis Fernando Llosa: The DEA raid was the largest steroid bust in history. Over a four-day period the DEA agents raided and shut down 26 illegal underground steroid labs and made more than 50 arrests across the U.S. It also identified 37 Chinese factories that were supplying 99 percent of the raw materials (in powder form) for these U.S.-based labs.
Using these powders, the labs were making anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and insulin growth factor. Through the raid the DEA seized 242 kilograms of raw steroid powder of Chinese origin, 11.4 million steroid dosage units, $6.5 million in cash, 25 vehicles, 27 pill presses, 71 weapons and three boats.
SI.com: What are the origins of this raid?
Llosa: Operation Raw Deal grew out of a 2005 DEA investigation called Operation Gear Grinder, which targeted and shut down eight Mexican labs that were responsible for supplying 80 percent of the illicit steroids imported into the U.S. from Mexico.
SI.com: Who was raided?
Llosa: Operation Raw Deal targeted this global distribution network with a four-pronged strategy: The operation sought out and identified the major raw materials manufacturers and suppliers in China and other countries; it targeted steroid underground labs in the U.S., Canada and Mexico; it went after U.S.-based Web sites that hawk conversion kits, which are used to convert the raw steroid powders imported from China into the finished product that is sold online and in gyms across the country. And it targeted the web of Internet body-building discussion boards that function like cyber cafes and marketplaces, where people meet and learn how to buy and use these substances.
SI.com: What kind of penalties and charges are people netted in the raid facing?
Llosa: Some of the individuals indicted in the U.S. are facing up to five years in prison and hefty fines, if convicted. They are facing charges ranging from conspiracy to importing controlled substances to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and money laundering.
Of course, the Chinese suppliers are beyond the reach of U.S. agencies. They have been identified, but it's up to Chinese authorities to pursue them.
SI.com: What kind of scope did this network have?
Llosa: It was a global distribution network that originated with raw materials from China and other countries. The raw materials were sent to labs in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, which sold them online and through web chat rooms and via sites that sold conversion kits. The bottom line: People could make these drugs in their own basements.
That's what's so frightening about this pipeline: People can act as their own chemists. These are dangerous, potentially toxic substances and this network made them accessible to anyone of any age. Last March in Albany County, N.Y., one 27-year-old young man died after having bought and used "homemade" steroids sold to him by a local distributor. This is dangerous stuff.
SI.com: What effect could this have on the Olympics?
Llosa: Anything is possible. Here's a worst case scenario:
In 2005 an SI.com source contacted a lab in China and asked what steroids the lab supplied. The lab responded by e-mail that it could make more than 30 anabolic steroids and send them to the customer in the U.S. by FedEx. When asked if the lab could make THG (the designer steroid that Barry Bonds made famous when he admitted to inadvertently using it during Grand Jury testimony) and send it to the U.S., they asked the source to specify the quantity of THG requested. If such labs are willing to satisfy customer requests such as this one, anti-doping officials are going to be extremely busy in 2008.
The question is what happens next. It's clear that China is the world's largest supplier of raw material used to make steroids, HGH and other performance-enhancing drugs. It's the Wild West out there. Hopefully there will be good cooperation between the Chinese authorities and the various national and international anti-doping agencies.