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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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Who knows how long the impact will last? New labs are rumored to be springing up already in Mexico. Anabolic steroids are also available through the Internet from dozens of other countries, including Australia, India, Russia, Thailand and Turkey. Every known steroid is for sale--as are ones not yet known. A Chinese company contacted by an SI reporter last year offered not only to sell him THG, but also to concoct a variation of it that would be undetectable to drug testers.

One critic of Operation Gear Grinder, William Llewellyn, author of the exhaustive steroid guidebook Anabolics 2006, says, "Nobody wants kids taking steroids, but all this is going to do is drive the market further underground. You'll see more counterfeit [steroids] and more tainted products, which can cause infections or worse." Indeed, there have already been reports of counterfeits showing up in Mexico. "One new product came out last week," says Vel�zquez, the farm�cia owner, "but it looks like a bad imitation. It looks like it was cooked up in someone's house."

The U.S. end of the steroid pipeline also is difficult to police. Personal trainers and gym junkies continue to push the drugs at fitness clubs. Some of them expand their territory and become "remailers," who are paid to receive packages from foreign websites or smugglers and redirect them to clients within the U.S. Those efforts are designed to confuse law enforcement and protect buyers from being directly linked to the original source of the drugs.

Kids often end up as part of the distribution chain. Once a youngster is using steroids he can be easily converted into a foot soldier for his supplier. "The kid is fronted some steroids he can't afford," says DEA agent Doug Coleman. "What happens when you can't pay? You are now a distributor because you need to pay off the debt. Next thing you know these kids are selling to their buddies."

Though the challenges remain daunting, Operation Gear Grinder proved that victories are at least possible in the fight against steroids. To celebrate, Jack and Hooton sat in a Mexican restaurant near San Diego after the indictments were announced, sharing a pitcher of frozen margaritas.

"Don, I don't know why I watched 60 Minutes that night," Jack said, suggesting it was fate. The two men talked for hours, about Gear Grinder and their families. When Hooton tried to thank him for his work in the fight against steroids, Jack waved him off. "I was just doing my part, while you do your part," he said.

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