Steroid ring smashed, DEA says Report of sales at local gym led to probe

November 20, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Baltimore -- using an undercover agent with a sophisticated knowledge of chemistry and a bodybuilder's physique -- said it has smashed an organization that trafficked in large amounts of black- market steroids smuggled from Mexico.

Use of the drugs by athletes, bodybuilders and even teen-agers to gain size and strength has increased sharply in recent years despite serious health risks and a recent federal law banning possession without a prescription.

In working the case, which is described by officials as one of the largest such investigations, the DEA seized more than $1 million worth of the muscle-building drugs and arrested six suspects, three of them Baltimore-area residents. The DEA investigation began in August, and the last arrest was made in late October.

Because of a long-standing lack of cooperation from Mexican authorities, U.S. agents have not been able to go into that country to arrest the suspected source of the steroids, a Mexican national, and repeated attempts to lure him to the United States have failed, a source said. The same man is wanted in a similar case in Detroit.

Those charged with conspiracy to distribute steroids in the Baltimore area are John Keilholtz, 25, of the 4700 block of Westland Blvd., Catonsville; Dale Boswell, 36, of the 1100 block of Circle Drive, Arnold, and James E. Hamer, 32, of the 8400 block of Bussenius Road, Pasadena, according to the DEA. All are free on bail ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 each.

Others charged in the conspiracy are Kenneth Desjardinis, 32, Portland, Maine; Daniel Cox, 29, also of Portland; and Patrick Barnes, 40, of Encinitas, Calif., the DEA reported.

The stages of the investigation were conducted by two detectives from Maryland law enforcement agencies assigned to DEA task force in Baltimore.

Baltimore City Detective Bill Denford and Maryland State Police Tfc. Paul Baker were instrumental in tracking out-of-state suppliers and securing warrants for the suspects in New England and California.

The undercover work was done by a hand-picked DEA agent because he will this year earn a master's degree in forensic toxicology and lifts weights as a hobby.

The case began last August when an informer told task force members that illegal steroids were being sold at a gym in Arbutus, according to Detective Denford. The owners and employees of the health club were not involved, he said.

"We were told that a lot of steroids were being dealt there illegally," Detective Denford said.

Because of the burgeoning black market in steroids across the United States, a federal law was passed banning possession of anabolic steroids or similar performance-enhancing drugs without a prescription and went into effect February 1991.

"We're accustomed to chasing people who deal heroin and cocaine," the undercover agent said. "Like in most bars you can usually buy a gram of coke from somebody. In most gyms today, there's somebody who is a member and who can get you some steroids."

The undercover agent set up a purchase of various preloaded syringes, pills and other medication at a car dealership in Glen Burnie where additional sales were consummated, Detective Denford said.

"Mr. Boswell, the suspect accused of dealing us the steroids, was one of the top salesmen at the dealership," Detective Denford said. "We set up deals for steroids on the showroom floor and on the car lot."

According to the investigators, local suspects led them to the next step in the steroid chain: Portland, Maine. There, two other suspects were arrested in late September and gave the DEA information about the source in California.

It was Mr. Barnes, arrested in Encinitas the third week in October, who had direct ties to the source in Mexico, Detective Denford said.

Authorities also confiscated nearly $200,000 in cash, a vehicle and packaging and labeling materials.

Also arrested was Jennifer Harvey, 37, of Portland, Maine, who was at the home of Mr. Cox when he was arrested. She was charged with possessing a quarter-ounce of cocaine, Detective Denford said.

"The principals in this case here and in Maine had money, jobs, were always in the gym," the federal undercover agent said.

"They were smart, educated and had a certain degree of sophistication about their knowledge of steroids and the human body," he said.

"It was a weird thing though," Detective Denford said. "Here they were in handcuffs, going to jail, and they were worried that they were going to get small again."

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