By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Grass doesn't get any greener than on the fields of Major League Baseball spring training, when vivacious, young hopefuls play catch with millionaire all-stars. That was the scene on a February morning at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, where the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals limbered up for the season ahead. Fans relaxed in the spring air. Parents and grandparents ate hot dogs and sipped beer as children in ball caps clung to the chainlink fence, begging for fragments of broken bats or old balls.
One year ago, this area wasn't so serene. Federal agents were assembling in a parking lot a few miles away, in the commercial area of this wealthy retirement and golfing town. With a battering ram, they raided the quiet third-floor offices of the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center (PBRC), in a dark corner of a three-story building on Indiantown Road. They hauled out computers, file cabinets, and bins of papers, as well as packages of stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid, and cartridges of Genotropin, the brand name for synthetically produced human growth hormone (HGH).
The case has highlighted the region's other, far less all-American/apple-pie place in pro baseball: Investigators contend South Florida is not only a major spring training destination, but also the epicenter of a network distributing illicit prescription steroids and HGH.
HGH has made national headlines since December, thanks to former Sen. George Mitchell's report to MLB detailing the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by its players. The Mitchell Report, the result of a year-and-a-half-long, $60-million investigation, says rejuvenation centers like PBRC "troll the Internet for customers," while corrupt physicians write prescriptions for patients they have not seen and pharmacies "deliver performance-enhancing substances to end users by mail." The report describes allegations about Roger Clemens and the widespread steroid dealings of former New York Mets batboy Kirk Radomski, but says, "As serious as Kirk Radomski's illegal distribution network was before it was shut down by federal agents, the threat to baseball posed by illegal sales of performance-enhancing substances over the Internet is greater."
The February 2007 raid on PBRC resulted from a joint investigation initiated by the Albany County District Attorney's Office in New York, and included the DEA, FDA, IRS, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and New York State Bureau of Investigation. At that very moment, simultaneous raids were taking place at Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Infinity Rejuvenation in Deerfield Beach, and Oasis Longevity and Rejuvenation in Delray Beach, along with other "antiaging clinics" in Texas and New York. The raids brought about more than a dozen arrests and seizures of truckloads of customer records.
Yet today PBRC and other Florida-based businesses remain open; indeed the PBRC clinic on Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens is bustling and the parking lot is full of luxury cars. The company's website, www.pbrcenter.com, is still up, imploring visitors to call for a free consultation to learn more about HGH, even though the only acceptable conditions for which HGH should be prescribed are exceedingly rare: short stature associated with Turner's syndrome, hormone deficiency in children that causes short stature, adult deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors, and muscle-wasting associated with HIV/AIDS.
Investigators claim businesses like PBRC were no more than boiler rooms or call centers, set up to streamline illegal drug sales over the Internet by connecting crooked doctors with the most desperate players in the game. Their patrons were young athletes striving to make it onto a major-league roster, or journeyman veterans willing to do anything to extend their career another year. They are pro athletes, but most are far from household names: Paul Byrd, Jay Gibbons, José Guillen, Darren Holmes, Ismael Valdez, Steve Woodward, and Jupiter's own Rick Ankiel, all of whom, the Mitchell Report claims, purchased HGH from South Florida rejuvenation centers.
A Minor League Baseball player interviewed by New Times at his apartment in Palm Beach County, who spoke on condition of anonymity (we'll call him J), is exactly the kind of client the centers catered to, according to investigators.
A late-round draft pick out of high school only a few years ago, J entered professional baseball at the bottom of the minor leagues. He had mild success his first season but got hurt halfway through. He was injured again early in his second season. "That's when I started thinking of ways to heal faster," J said. "By then, everyone was talking about how HGH can get you healthy and strong again fast."
He went to his computer and Googled HGH. Near the top of the search results was the link to PBRC. The site advertised more muscle mass, less fat, more strength, more stamina, more (and better) sex, and no unwanted side effects. Within two weeks, J was opening up his first batch of drugs. He says he doesn't remember the name of the prescribing doctor on the label, but "I had never heard the guy's name before."
J received drugs from Signature Pharmacy at least three times, paying about $1,000 for a combination of steroids and HGH generally used for a one-month workout cycle. "There were a bunch of little bottles of liquid and syringes," he said, describing the first package, which included "growth hormone, testosterone, muscle builder, stuff to balance it all out. It was more complicated than I expected." He says he called PBRC for instructions. "I didn't want to inject the wrong thing — this into that or in the wrong order or whatever, and have something bad happen."