Garbage held clues in steroid import case
Court papers detail how agents sought evidence of alleged dealing

By DAN HIGGINS, Staff writer
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First published: Thursday, June 15, 2006

A two-year federal investigation of a North Greenbush man included intercepting his mail and, on one occasion, rifling through his trash before authorities charged him with attempting to receive anabolic steroids from China, according to documents filed in federal court.

Christopher Magnano, 33, faces charges connected to what officials described as an Internet-based sales operation of the illegal substances, which were seized from his North Greenbush home following his May 19 arrest. Police said the seizure of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone was the largest ever in the Capital Region.

The documents filed in U.S. District Court in Albany shed more light on the investigation that led agents to suspect Magnano. Magnano is charged with illegal possession of anabolic steroids with the intent to distribute. Federal officials said more charges could follow as the investigation continues.

Authorities allege that when they confronted him, Magnano explained how he received anabolic steroids from China for several years and resold them over the Internet. But his attorney, Bryan Rounds, challenged that claim Tuesday.

"The words attributed to my client were not spoken by him," Rounds said. He said whatever Magnano told investigators has been "pulled, twisted, and taken out of context," and that the paraphrasing in the court documents shows that it was a "second- or third-hand account."

Rounds said no evidence shows that Magnano had any intention to sell the substances and that he questions whether the materials seized have been correctly tested and identified as illegal steroids.

Magnano had been under suspicion by at least three federal agencies, according to an affidavit from a U.S. postal inspector. Postal inspectors had intercepted his mail, and agents from the Food and Drug Administration's criminal enforcement unit even searched the garbage outside his Sequoia Drive home, where they said they found empty bottles of anabolic steroids and used syringes. That information was used to obtain the search warrant that led to the seizure.

In a statement, a postal inspector assigned to Troy said agents were alerted after Magnano set up several post office boxes around the Capital Region and received mail at his home address. He frequently received packages from other countries and was evasive on one occasion when postal employees asked him about a parcel's contents, according to the inspector's deposition.

Adding to their suspicions, inspectors learned Magnano had a history of drug convictions. He served time in state prison for selling LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms in the 1990s.

Last year, the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations told a Troy-based postal inspector that their agency also was investigating Magnano. They suspected he had been receiving anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at Kennedy Airport in New York City intercepted mail addressed to Magnano from China that they said contained the illegal substances.

The week Magnano was arrested in May, FDA agents learned Magnano was going to receive another suspicious shipment from China. The authorities set up a bust in which police asked a DHL employee in Latham to call Magnano and tell him his package had arrived. When Magnano turned up to retrieve the package, an undercover agent handed it to him. That's when Colonie police took him into custody.

According to court records, Magnano had packages in his car containing more illegal steroids that agents contend he was preparing to mail to his buyers.

Magnano has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains free on bail.