DEA Leads Largest Steroid Bust in History
DEC 15--WASHINGTON, DC – DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy today announced the arrest of Albert Saltiel-Cohen, owner of three of the world’s largest anabolic steroid manufacturers, as part of the largest steroid enforcement operation in U.S. history. Operation Gear Grinder is a 21-month Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation that targeted eight major steroid manufacturing companies, their owners, and their trafficking associates. By reviewing the sources of all seized and analyzed steroids submitted to the DEA’s forensic laboratories, DEA intelligence analysts and diversion investigators found that 82 percent of the steroids seized and analyzed are of Mexican origin. A large majority of those 82 percent seized and analyzed steroids originate from the eight companies identified in Operation Gear Grinder. These businesses conducted their sales via the Internet, and DEA estimates their combined total U.S. steroid sales are $56 million per year.
“Steroid traffickers market their product by luring young people with promises of enhanced performance and appearance,” DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy said, “but what they don’t say is the illicit use of these harmful drugs can destroy the very bodies that they are supposed to improve. Drug traffickers prey on the belief that steroids enhance ability, but steroids only rob that ability, as we have seen so often from the affected lives of too many youth and professional athletes.”
Operation Gear Grinder is part of the Virtual Enforcement Initiative, a coordinated DEA effort to target illegal Internet drug trafficking, which was launched in April with Operation Cyber Chase and continued in September with Operation CYBERx. DEA’s cyber initiative acknowledges drug traffickers are embracing the use of 21 st century technology to further spread their virus into U.S. communities.
The steroid manufacturers involved in this investigation tried to mask the true consumers of these products by marketing them as being developed and sold for use in animals. The veterinary manufacturers (“laboratorios”) took notice of the demand for anabolic steroids and created a marketing strategy tailored to the needs of the U.S. consumer – to include high-quality products and internet websites. Communications via the Internet and parcel distributions were the core of these companies’ operations. The websites showcase the products and offer an email address to exchange prices and tracking numbers, and give ordering and payment instructions.
These eight companies used U.S.-based email addresses and listed each manufacturer utilizing a business website to place their products in the hands of American consumers. Some manufacturers provided direct referrals to distributors through the Contact Us section of the websites. The steroids were smuggled into the United States, and shipped to customers. In addition, steroids from the eight companies were also shipped to U.S. traffickers, who re-sold the products to their customers. Financial transactions were primarily done via Western Union wire transfers, as well as bank transfers and credit card payments.
These groups also supplied numerous pharmacies along the U.S./Mexico border, where U.S. customers could purchase steroids and smuggle them back across the border into the United States.
In addition to the Saltiel-Cohen arrest and indictments, DEA today arrested 4 steroid trafficking suspects in San Diego and Laredo, TX. As part of Operation Gear Grinder, DEA also identified over 2,000 U.S. customers that have received steroids from the businesses indicted today. These customers consist of individual users, street-level dealers, and organized trafficking groups in dozens of cities across the country.
The Southern District of California has issued indictments charging the companies and individual defendants with the following:Title 21, U.S.C., Secs. 952, 960 and 963 - Conspiracy to Import Anabolic Steroids; Title 21, U.S.C., Secs. 846 and 841(a)(1) - Conspiracy to Distribute Anabolic Steroids; Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. 2; Title 18, U.S.C., Secs. 1956(h) and 1956(a)(1)(A)(I) - Conspiracy to Launder Money; Title 21, U.S.C.,Sec. 853(a), Title 18, U.S.C.,Sec. 982 and Title 21, U.S.C.,Sec. 853(p) - Criminal Forfeiture.
1. Companies: Quality Vet, Denkall, and Animal Power
2. Company: Laboratorios Tornel
3. Company: Laboratorios Brovel
4. Company: Pet’s Pharma
5. Company: Syd Group
6. Company: Loeffler
Operation Gear Grinder was coordinated by the DEA Special Operations Division. DEA offices in San Diego, Mexico City, Tijuana, New York, Houston, San Antonio, and Laredo, Texas participated in the investigation.
This investigation was a collaborative effort involving DEA, numerous U.S state and local law enforcement agencies, and the Mexican Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI).