FDA muscles up on Bodybuilding.com, Web site suspected of selling steroids
By Teri Thompson and Nathaniel Vinton
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Updated Friday, September 25th 2009, 4:00 AM
The federal government's crackdown on the nutritional supplement industry continued Thursday as FDA agents executed a search warrant on one of the country's most popular bodybuilding Web sites, Bodybuilding.com, which the government accuses of marketing and distributing illegal anabolic steroids.
The government's action appears to be part of a nationwide investigation into supplement companies by federal agents including Jeff Novitzky, the FDA criminal investigator who was primarily responsible for uncovering BALCO doping ring, blowing the doors open on widespread steroid abuse in sports.
In an application for a search warrant, unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Idaho, investigators sought access to the headquarters and warehouses of Bodybuilding.com, which claims to have shipped more than six million orders. The site's parent company, Liberty Media, is a large media conglomerate with a business interest in a variety of corporations including the DirectTV, QVC and the Atlanta Braves.
The affidavit claims that the Web site has been illegally selling five anabolic steroids with the names “Madol,” “Tren,” “Superdrol,” “Androstenedione,” and “Turinabol,” despite five “warning letters” from the FDA since 2002 informing the company that it was in violation of the law.
“It's a significant step but it also unfortunately highlights the ineffective regulation of this industry,” said Travis Tygart, president of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “We've got to wonder how many others are out there continuing to sell these and other anabolic steroids.”
Rob Blenkinsop, the FDA special agent who signed the 86-page affidavit, was also involved with the BALCO crackdown and was listed as a government witness in last year's perjury trial against Tammy Thomas. In the document, Blenkinsop claims to have been involved with the execution of four search warrants in the last four months at firms “involved with the illegal distribution of misbranded and unapproved drugs being marketed as dietary supplements.”
In July, FDA agents – led by Novitzky – raided American Cellular Labs, a California-based supplement company, and then issued a public health advisory about tainted supplements. One of the substances that was allegedly being distributed by that company was Madol, an obscure designer steroid allegedly re-discovered by Patrick Arnold, the rogue chemist who helped develop BALCO's designer steroid THG – or, the Clear.
Telephone calls to Bodybuilding.com were routed to executive assistant Erin Hogue and were not immediately returned. According to the Web site, the site's forums have over 1.3 million members who have made more than 33 million posts.
The supplement industry has become notorious for selling contaminated products in the wake of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, a 1994 federal law that deregulated the industry. The government has been able to prosecute some offenders under the Steroid Control Act of 2004, which was amended in 2005 to ease the definition of a designer, or man-made steroid.
Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs has scheduled hearings on the barriers preventing the enforcement of steroid control in the bodybuilding industry.
Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO who served a prison sentence for his role in the doping conspiracy, said he was particularly surprised to learn that the affidavit identified the drug “turnibol,” which he said was developed by the East Germans during the Cold War for their notorious state-sponsored doping regimens.
“They called them the 'little blue pills' in the 1960s and 1970s,” Conte said. “Someone has now picked it up and put it in a product in the U.S.”