WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2005 — -- In what it describes as the largest steroid investigation in U.S. history, the Drug Enforcement Agency announced six indictments, charging eight anabolic steroid manufacturers in Mexico and 23 individuals with federal drug trafficking and money laundering.
DEA officials are optimistic the two-year investigation -- dubbed "Operation Gear Grinder" -- will reduce the availability of steroids available in the United States.
"This international operation will greatly diminish the supply of anabolic steroids produced in Mexico that are being sold illegally in the United States," John Fernandes, special agent in charge of the DEA San Diego Field Division, said today.
According to DEA laboratory analysis, 82 percent of all steroids seized and analyzed in the United States are manufactured in Mexico. The DEA believes that a vast majority of the steroids in the United States are manufactured by the eight companies charged today.
The DEA believes the eight companies had combined sales of $56 million per year in the United States. According to court documents, many of the firms operated and supplied veterinary stores along the U.S.-Mexico border. DEA investigators believe some of the firms and distributors smuggled large quantities of steroids across the border for distribution in the United States.
Court papers show the DEA used confidential sources who purchased large quantities of steroids from one of the firms allegedly involved and that the source purchased a $10,000 shipment of steroids on Sept. 19, 2005.
The firms have been operating openly in Mexico and marketed their products on the Internet as animal steroids for horses and cattle, but DEA officials say they were designed for human consumption since pill or injection doses are not typically usually used for veterinarian purposes.
"Veterinarians wouldn't be using these doses," DEA special agent Doug Coleman told ABC News.
Dr. Alberto Saltiel Cohen, a Mexican veterinarian, was arrested at a hotel in Southern California where he believed he was picking up money from contacts who were actually DEA special agents.
Four other individuals were also arrested in San Diego and Laredo, Texas, and charged with steroid trafficking. Other defendants remain in Mexico. Their custody status is currently unknown, but U.S. law enforcement authorities are working with the Mexican Federal Agency of Investigation.
Investigators have identified over 2,000 people who ordered the illegal steroids from the Mexican companies. Field agents are currently trying to run down leads in the case and determine who may have been distributing the steroids. Although purchasing anabolic steroids is a federal crime, DEA officials are more focused on tracking down the U.S. dealers and distributors selling the illegal products.
DEA Special Agent Doug Coleman said that the use of the Internet allowed U.S.-based distributors and customers to request the anabolic steroids in certain dose levels -- in effect, "getting their steroids tailor made," Coleman said.
Illegal drug trafficking on the Internet has increased in recent years and has resulted in the DEA launching numerous investigations into Web-based pharmacies, many of them operating outside the United States. Used mostly by body builders and other athletes for increased muscle and strength, steroid use has increased in recent years according to the DEA.
"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," said DEA Administrator Karen Tandy in a statement today.
The ability to order prescription drugs online has also resulted in more teenagers obtaining and using steroids.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that more than 500,000 8th to 10th grade students are currently using steroids, and an increasing number of these students do not believe that they are harmful.