The Godfather (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 11, 2008 12:07PM; Updated: Tuesday March 11, 2008 3:47PM
At one point Fitton claims he was supplying steroids to "a good few in the WWF." Mostly to put a face with a prospective client's phone voice, he watched a wrestling broadcast and didn't like the swaggering, neon-cowboy persona of Randy (Macho Man) Savage. Fitton says that it was only after another client, the late John Minton (a.k.a. Big John Studd), vouched for Savage's "real life" character, that he agreed to add Savage to his client list. "Nice guy," says Fitton of Savage, who has publicly admitted to trying steroids. (Savage didn't respond to calls seeking comment.)
Fitton's second arrest came in the fall of 1984 when U.S. Customs agents apprehended him in the border town of Tecate, Calif., for attempting to transport more than 2,000 boxes of Dianabol into the U.S. (He also had notes from multiple doctors approving his transit of drugs; one claimed he was participating in a scientific study on hair loss.) No one had yet been federally prosecuted for bringing steroids into the States, so Fitton was unfazed by his arrest. That changed when the prosecutor, Phillip Halpern, an assistant U.S. attorney based in San Diego, made it clear that he would seek prison time. "I wanted to put steroids on the map," Halpern told SI.
Pleading guilty to two counts of steroid trafficking and one count of making false statements to a federal officer, Fitton posted bail of $7,500, then went on the lam for nine months. He settled first in Columbus, Ga., where he concealed his identity by tanning, lightening his hair and jogging daily to slim down to 180 pounds (from 220). Then he went to Albuquerque to watch a competition in which his then girlfriend, Vicki Steenrod, a five-time world champion powerlifter, was participating. Halpern says today that if Fitton hadn't run, he might have gotten off on probation. But after he was picked up in New Mexico, he was sentenced to 54 months in prison.
Fitton served 12 months in San Diego and Tucson, then spent the balance of the time on parole and probation. Fearful of returning to prison, he got out of the steroids racket and began working with Musashi, an Australian company that supplied (legal) amino acid supplements to athletes. Fitton likened their taste to "sucking on the dregs of a fish tank." But he believed in the muscle-building powers of amino acids and once wrote in a packet for athletes that they were the best alternative to steroids, if used properly.
Although he had served jail time for distributing drugs, Fitton worked with several NFL teams -- including the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers -- on behalf of Musashi; he stresses that he wasn't trafficking in steroids at the time. (The Packers declined comment; a Broncos spokesman says the team has no knowledge of Fitton.)
Old habits, however, die hard. By the mid-1990s Fitton was off probation and back to dealing steroids. Living with Steenrod in Albuquerque, he was again frequenting major powerlifting events. During a '97 trip to New York City, Fitton says, he received an excess of steroids from a source in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn -- identified only as "the Russian supplier" in court records. (Fitton claims the man had connections to commercial pilots who would bring steroids from Russia on their flights.) Somehow he ended up with "10 to 15" more boxes of Dianabol than he was planning to distribute. Four weeks later, when cops wearing flak jackets showed up at his door in Albuquerque, they found the pharmacopoeia of pills. Why hadn't Fitton simply disposed of them? "That," he says, with a strained laugh, "goes against everything."
He was charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and served four months in prison at Fort Dix West, a New Jersey penitentiary -- but not before, according to court documents, U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein delayed his sentencing by seven weeks to allow him to complete unfinished business with the Packers. (Stein did wonder, though, if an NFL team "would be better off to have weight trainers who do not have a history of anabolic steroids.") Upon his release in June 1998, policemen cuffed him, drove him directly to Newark Liberty International Airport and deported him to England.
A decade after he says he peddled his last pill, Tony Fitton is living in an austere, two-bedroom apartment that betrays nothing of his role in sports history. Where he once pored over medical books, his current obsession is Texas singer-songwriters. Four thousand CDs line his shelves. He had a stroke four years ago that immobilized his right foot, and he makes his way around town in a white Renault with the pedals customized for a left-footed driver. Fitton married Steenrod, now a nurse in Albuquerque, a year ago, and she comes to visit two or three times a year.
Fitton hasn't set foot in the U.S. since he was deported, and is completely out of touch with American sports. He hadn't heard of Roger Clemens. Asked about George Mitchell, the man whose report on performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball has dominated headlines for the past three months, Fitton replies, "You mean the George Mitchell who settled Northern Ireland?"
He has no interest in returning to his former line of work. For all the performance-enhancing drug use he helped facilitate -- by skewing Hervey's study results, by teaching test-skirting tactics, by experimenting with new steroids and distributing trusted ones -- the federations and testing agencies and bureaucrats are beginning to close in on their prey.
Fitton believes that if drug testing occurs out of competition, and if the tests are truly unannounced, "the only sure, safe thing an athlete can do is human growth hormone, and a bit of testosterone, and monitor their testosterone levels." And where's the chemist's creativity in that? "I'm just glad we had those years," he says, "when sports were fun."
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