On Dec. 14, when
Don Hooton received the call asking him to come to San Diego, he knew only, per
the usual code, that Jack was smiling. It wasn't until Jack picked him up at
the airport the next day that he was filled in on the fruits of Gear
me, 'Hooton, we are going to shut them down.' Then he tells me about
Saltiel-Cohen, and I am going nutso inside," says Hooton. "Jack had on
a baby blue suit, dressed like a million bucks, and he's got this piece on his
belt, a big black gun in a holster, and I'm going, 'Damn, this is for real.
They've just arrested the biggest guy of them all.'"
Jack took Hooton
to the press conference to announce the indictment of Saltiel-Cohen and 22
others--owners, managers and distributors--on a variety of charges, including
conspiracy to import steroids and money laundering. After the announcement,
Hooton and Jack were sitting at a table as reporters lingered and asked
follow-up questions, when Jack looked at his watch. It was 1:45. "How would
you like to watch him be arraigned?" he asked Hooton.
Minutes later the
two were in the courtroom as Saltiel-Cohen was ushered in. Hooton was struck by
how distinguished Saltiel-Cohen looked, even in a prison jumpsuit. "He
looked just like a business guy," Hooton says. "He looked like an Enron
would soon be dubbed Narco Vet by the Mexican press. After watching him plead
not guilty, Hooton and Jack returned to the DEA office, where agent after agent
congratulated Jack on the biggest bust of his career.
In the days after
the arrests bodybuilders and weightlifters posted messages on U.S.--based
websites like elitefitness.com, expressing concern that supply lines would be
cut off for the popular steroids produced by companies like Saltiel-Cohen's
Quality Vet. "This is the worst news I've heard in a long time," wrote
ryan04. "R.I.P.-QV ... you've been a friend to us all."
proved justified. In the ensuing months, all eight companies either halted or
significantly cut back on the production of steroids, and seizures of Mexican
steroids smuggled into the U.S. dropped significantly. The Mexican government,
which had cooperated with the DEA investigation, says it is investigating
money-laundering violations by the companies on its side of the border.
Meanwhile, working off a list of more than 2,000 people in the U.S. who had
done business, directly or indirectly, with the eight companies, DEA agents
knocked on roughly 500 doors across the country, making a handful of arrests
and issuing warnings to stay out of the steroid trade.
While 18 of those
indicted in Gear Grinder remain at large (four others are in custody and have
pleaded not guilty), Saltiel-Cohen sits in a federal detention center in San
Diego, awaiting a motion hearing in mid-June. "My client has been
cooperating with the government and is negotiating a plea agreement," says
his lawyer, Merle Schneidewind.
meanwhile, business is hurting at many farmacias, especially those specializing
in veterinary drugs. At Farm�cia Veterinar�a Revoluci�n, which stands only a
few yards from El Arco Reloj Monumental, Tijuana's version of the St. Louis
Gateway Arch, a 100-milligram vial of Winstrol manufactured by Quality Vet
costs $185, up from $120 before the indictments. Ralph, a twentysomething
employee who mans the counter, explains the hike: "We don't have much left
and don't know if we can get more. If someone else starts making it, we will
stay open. If not, who knows."
At a nearby
farm�cia, Granero El Toro, owner Nino Vel�zquez says that 30% of his business
came from selling anabolic steroids from the eight companies. "Right here
in [central Tijuana], four veterinarian pharmacies have already closed because
95 percent of their business was anabolic sales," he says. "They've run
out of stuff to sell. The ones that are still open are running out fast. I know
eight vet pharmacies that have closed in Mexico so far--five in Tijuana, one in
Nuevo Laredo and two in Ciudad Ju�rez."