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The Mexican Connection
George Dohrmann
April 24, 2006
Operation Gear Grinder shut down a flourishing drug business in a BALCO-scale investigation of major steroid trafficking
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April 24, 2006

The Mexican Connection

Operation Gear Grinder shut down a flourishing drug business in a BALCO-scale investigation of major steroid trafficking

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Days after watching Don Hooton tell 60 Minutes the story of his son's death, Jack called Hooton at his home in Plano. He introduced himself and told him he had watched the segment with his two boys, saying, "It was like you were talking through the TV screen to me. And I wanted you to know that I'm listening." Later Jack told him, "The DEA in San Diego is working on a case. You're not going to see results anytime soon. But believe me, we are as committed as you are. And I just want you to know, I will work my ass off for this cause."

Jack continued to check on Hooton every other month, and over the next year and a half, a friendship developed. Jack listened as Don talked about the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which he had formed in an effort to educate kids and parents about steroid use. He heard Don's frustration over the investigation into Taylor's death. The probe had stalled, even though police had identified a local teenager they believe had supplied Taylor with steroids. Don was also upset with officials at Plano West Senior High; he felt they weren't acknowledging the steroid problem at the school (box, page 74).

Jack never gave in to the temptation to cheer Hooton up with updates on Gear Grinder, and Hooton found a way to satisfy his curiosity without pressing. "I know it's inappropriate, Jack, to ask you guys what you are doing or how you are doing, but tell me one thing. Are you smiling?" Don asked during one call.

"Yeah, I'm smiling," Jack said.

"Good," said Hooton. "That's all I need to know."

Jack eventually tacked a photo on his cubicle wall of the vial of steroids found in Taylor's room. Taylor had wrapped the vial carefully and hidden it behind a speaker. He had used the drug without his parents' knowledge, and, when he tried to quit, became so engulfed by depression that he hanged himself in his room, leaving a note that read, "I love you guys. I'm sorry about everything."

In early 2005 the DEA received the vial, which contained Deca QV 300, or nandralone, one of Quality Vets' most popular products. That drug, the DEA says, was one of Saltiel-Cohen's biggest money-makers.

To prove that the manufacturers and distributors of the steroids were aware that humans were using them in the U.S., the DEA first turned to the Olympic lab at UCLA, to the scientists who first identified THG, the designer steroid at the center of the BALCO scandal. Doctors there determined that the Mexican drugs were exactly what athletes would take, and were in the dosages that those users would want.

Further debunking the notion that these were produced as veterinary drugs, the DEA found that some 80% of the steroids were being shipped to the Baja California region, which Bob found has only 1% of Mexico's cattle. With the help of Dr. Scott Stanley, an associate professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (at which Saltiel-Cohen, ironically, had done graduate studies), investigators marshaled even more evidence. Some of the seized products contained more than one steroid, a practice known as "stacking," which is common among human users but has no veterinary purpose. And often the instructions were blatantly wrong. "There were products where the instructions suggested two times and up to 25 times the recommended doses for animals," Stanley says.

Stanley also told the DEA that the volume and variety of products was excessive. "In the U.S. the use of steroids on animals is not a popular treatment anymore," Stanley says. Only five types of anabolic steroids are used on animals in the U.S.; the Mexican companies were manufacturing 17 types.

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