It perhaps makes sense that one of America's combined capitals of drug imports and vapid, image-based capitalism is also arguably the nation's steroid epicenter. Despite 'roid scandals hitting the news wires about as frequently as Donald Trump hits up Kentucky Fried Chicken, Florida officials seem to have no real interest in regulating or policing the myriad Florida "anti-aging clinics" that dispense testosterone, human-grown hormone, and other steroid peptides, analogs, and masking agents to athletes, movie stars, and generally vain Florida lizard-people.
Instead, New Times is stuck writing about insane, steroid-related hijinks seemingly every six months or so. Given that New Times' juice-expert Tim Elfrink got unprecedented access into a steroid ring and published a long-form dive on the topic this week, we figured we'd run down the most interesting cases we've covered, starting with the Biogenesis saga that won Elfrink a George Polk Award for getting Alex Rodriguez and other MLB players suspended:
Open the neat spreadsheet and scroll past the listing of local developers, prominent attorneys, and personal trainers. You'll find a lengthy list of nicknames: Mostro, Al Capone, El Cacique, Samurai, Yukon, Mohamad, Felix Cat, and D.R.
Then check out the main column, where their real names flash like an all-star roster of professional athletes with Miami ties: San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland A's hurler Bartolo Colón, pro tennis player Wayne Odesnik, budding Cuban superstar boxer Yuriorkis Gamboa, and Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz. There's even the New York Yankees' $275 million man himself, Alex Rodriguez, who has sworn he stopped juicing a decade ago.
Read further and you'll find more than a dozen other baseball pros, from former University of Miami ace Cesar Carrillo to San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal to Washington Nationals star Gio Gonzalez. Notable coaches are there too, including UM baseball conditioning guru Jimmy Goins.
The names are all included in an extraordinary batch of records from Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic tucked into a two-story office building just a hard line drive's distance from the UM campus. They were given to New Times by an employee who worked at Biogenesis before it closed last month and its owner abruptly disappeared. The records are clear in describing the firm's real business: selling performance-enhancing drugs, from human growth hormone (HGH) to testosterone to anabolic steroids.
Richard Rodriguez checked the $97,000 Rolex on his wrist again. A crowd milled outside the gate at Miami International Airport, waiting for boarding that was supposed to have begun five minutes ago for an early-morning flight to L.A. What was the holdup? The 37-year-old gym rat with a razored scalp and trimmed goatee fought off a rising panic.
A few minutes earlier, he'd received a frantic text message from a manager at Iron Addicts, the popular Arts & Entertainment District gym he owned. Federal agents had swarmed the place, ejected dozens of sweat-drenched bodybuilders, and barged into Rodriguez's office one floor above the neat rows of weights. As he stared at the plane idling outside on February 22, 2017, Rodriguez knew the feds were hauling boxes of his records past musclebound clients on the sidewalk.
Rodriguez raised his hands and stood up. The agents slapped on handcuffs, carted the gym owner through the bustling airport, and drove him to his oceanside Miami Beach condo tower. He watched as agents in body armor led out his shackled wife, Nancy.
"I felt like I was the Pablo Escobar of steroids," Rodriguez says today, speaking by phone from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
In fact, as the feds soon laid out in court, Rodriguez had built one of the largest online steroid operations in U.S. history. While celebrity bodybuilders flexed on Instagram inside his gym and hawked drugs from his website, Wellness Fitness Nutrition — WFN for short — Rodriguez sold nearly $10 million worth of steroids in two years. He bought a McLaren and a Mercedes-Benz SLS, gifted his wife Cartier jewelry and trips to Europe, and became famous in pro bodybuilding, where he was widely known as Dr. Rodriguez even though he had no medical degree.
Why not set up a website where clients could get prescribed drugs and never leave home?
Now, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and awaiting sentencing, Rodriguez has offered New Times an unprecedented look at how a steroid operation works today.
In Madrid, cops broke down the door to Artemio Lopez Tardon's palatial estate, arresting the one-eyed drug don before finding 19 million euros hidden under the floorboards.
In Miami, police raided a Santeria-filled penthouse at South Point's swanky Continuum condo building, where they arrested Artemio's younger brother, Alvaro, on charges of money laundering.
Prosecutors on both sides of the Atlantic have accused the brothers of using real estate and luxury cars to launder drug proceeds. They allegedly shipped Colombian cocaine to Europe, funneling money back to Miami in wire transfers or, even less discreetly, by buying Bugattis in Spain and then reselling them here in South Florida.
The brothers were literally rolling in cash. Alvaro allegedly used drug money and a coterie of accomplices to buy pricey condos around downtown and South Beach.
The younger Tardon was heavily tatted and totally ripped. He posed on Facebook, flexing his muscles in leather skirts. He was also addicted to plastic surgery.
And steroids. In a truly Miami twist, Tardon's steroid supplier was none other than Tony Bosch — the Biogenesis founder whose botched drug operation would ultimately bring down Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez.
But first it brought down Los Miami. Four months before his money laundering arrest, Alvaro Lopez Tardon went on a 'roid rage. He smashed his head through a TV in his $600,000 Coconut Grove condo. Then he rounded on his wife, Sharon Cohen, who had recently filed for divorce from her increasingly deranged husband.
Tardon grabbed a kitchen knife from the counter and put it to her throat. Then he punched her repeatedly in the stomach. "I'm going to kill you if you don't do what I say!" he hollered.
Instead, she hit a panic button and Tardon was arrested. Cohen later began cooperating with the feds, and the Los Miami gang began unraveling.
Now, after a six-week trial, Tardon appears likely to be going to prison. His wife has left him. His accomplices have tattled on him. And his half-blind brother remains locked up in Spain.
Miami Police Department officers turned up on the client lists of Tony Bosch's clinic, and steroids connected to the case disappeared from the Miami PD's evidence room.
Well, what do you know, today Miami PD says it's adding several anabolic performance-enhancing drugs to its banned substances list, and that officers may be subject to screening tests.
The Miami Herald, however, reports that everyone involved says the move just happens to be coincidental and has nothing at all to do with the New Times report.
"There's no correlation between the two," Major Delrish Moss told the paper.
Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso and FOP president Sgt. Javier Ortiz echoed that claim.
Moss instead says the department had suspected some PED-rage incidents among certain officers, but had never had the ability to test for anabolic steroids before.
Moss also defended a particular officer named in our report, Sgt. Jose Gonzalez. Gonzalez's name appeared several times in Bosch's record, but Moss says Gonzelez had been referred to the clinic for a legitimate ailment and was a victim.
Gonzalez himself said as much to the former Florida Department of Health investigator at the center of this week's New Times story.
Well, whatever the reason, Miami PD cops could soon be tested for steroids, and hopefully we won't have to worry about any 'roid-raging officers.
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In the Beach's gay male community, legal steroid use is widespread. The vast majority of users are HIV-positive. Doctors have prescribed steroids for AIDS patients throughout the '90s to combat wasting syndrome, the debilitating, potentially deadly weight loss associated with advanced stages of the disease. Most HIV-positive men who are on steroids not only maintain their muscle mass, they are able — with regular trips to the gym, of course — to look healthier and more robust than when they were HIV-negative.
But recently, illegal steroid use among gay men has skyrocketed, transforming Miami Beach into a national epicenter for "cosmetic" steroid use. The drugs are no longer a matter of medical necessity but rather of attaining the perfect bod. While the steroid boom among gay men mirrors a similar pattern in the straight community, doctors fear that gay users are pumping up without heeding the potentially deadly side effects of heavy use. And gay pundits fret that the ascendancy of massive chiseled physiques is producing a drug-enhanced gay elite that disdains the less-sculpted citizens of the Queer Nation.
They juiced harder than Mark McGwire, pumped iron faster than a Lamborghini Diablo's pistons, and made it rain on more strippers than Juicy J at King of Diamonds. To finance their voracious appetites, they became experts in the dark arts of kidnapping, torture, extortion, and murder.
One of their victims survived a month of sleep deprivation, Taser jolts, lighter burns, and even the coup de grâce: three days of waterboarding with sleeping pills and booze before being strapped into a blazing car. Two other victims weren't so lucky, ending up murdered and chopped to pieces with chainsaws, their body parts tossed into the Everglades.
They were the Sun Gym Gang, and even by Magic City standards, their macabre exploits were difficult to stomach. Yet their incredible story almost went untold. Crime reporter Pete Collins couldn't find any takers for his book about the bloody spree until he pitched the tale to Miami New Times, which ran it in three installments between December 1999 and January 2000. "Pain & Gain" turned into one of the most widely read yarns in this paper's 26-year history.
Collins's tale documented how Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal kidnapped three victims, killing two of them. Once they were caught, their prosecution became the longest, most expensive case ever tried by the State Attorney's Office. More than 22 search warrants were issued. One hundred-plus witnesses were called to the stand. And 10,000 pieces of evidence were presented. The jury was sworn in on February 20, 1998, and didn't begin deliberations until four months later.
It was a tome so diabolically cinematic that it's about to become the first New Times piece to grace the silver screen. Blockbuster director Michael Bay, who lives in Miami, read the series and decided to transform it into a pitch-dark comedy. His adaptation, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, hits theaters April 26.
Before Pain & Gain hits cinemas across the country, New Times tracked down the characters who made the true story so unforgettable. Here is what's become of them two decades after the Sun Gym Gang's infamous bloodbath.