You hear the term in reference to professional baseball players, Olympians and most recently, celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong - but you don’t expect one of your neighbors to be dealing in illegal steroids.
Omaha police discovered in April that four local residents were players in a steroid ring with origins in China and a drug kingpin in New York. Local narcotics detectives say they stumbled onto the largest steroid bust of their careers, one involving several hundred thousand dollars of the drug.
Christopher J. Bowers, 45, of Omaha, Ryan M. Bowers, 29, of Papillion, Bernard Venditte, 31, of Omaha and Jeanine A. Rowe, 35, of Papillion each was charged with possession of illegal steroids with intent to deliver.
The four are accused of acting as delivery agents for large shipments of home-cooked testosterone cocktails.
Thousands of vials of illegal steroids were shipped into the Omaha area before and during the months-long investigation, said Omaha Police Sgt. Dave Bianchi.
Raw hormones from China were mailed to the drug operation’s leader in New York.
Bianchi said the ringleader turned it into an injectable solution and then bottled, labeled and shipped the toxic product to the Omaha and Papillion home addresses of those arrested.
Their job was to repackage and mail the vials to online buyers.
The investigation began in April when a U.S. Postal Service inspector noticed something odd about two packages.
Two Express Mail packages with consecutive numbers had been mailed from different post offices in New York. Both were addressed to Christopher Bowers’ home in Omaha, but the return addresses were for nonexistent businesses in New York, according to court documents.
Those were red flags, indicating that drugs likely were in the packages.
Police followed the delivery of the packages to Bowers’ home in midtown and discovered hundreds of vials of testosterone.
These steroid cocktails would never be used as legitimate medical treatments, said Omaha narcotics Detective Greg Hamill.
The home-brewed anabolic steroids had labels from a fake laboratory called Lexx Labs and were named Sustanon-300, Nandro-100, Masteron-100 and Deca-300. The doses could be up to 100 times higher than those used to treat medical conditions.
Hamill called the mixtures "ridiculously toxic."
"I believe some of the drugs would have stayed in Omaha, but we have nothing to indicate that the steroids were pushed on kids or legitimate athletes," Bianchi said.
Hamill said the majority of steroid users are men looking to quickly bulk up muscle mass.
Steroid abuse has been linked to serious health problems, including liver damage, kidney impairment or failure and enlargement of the heart, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Anabolic steroids fall under the same legal classification as the illegal possession of oxycodone or vicodin.
When Bowers was questioned, authorities said, he implicated his nephew, Ryan Bowers.
The younger man then indicated to police that a friend, Venditte, had approached him with the opportunity to make some money by repackaging steroids sent from New York, court documents state.
Police said the supplier likely had used an online message board to approach one of the Omaha-area residents, who had purchased and personally used steroids in the past.
More steroids were found in Venditte’s west Omaha apartment, and then detectives uncovered Rowe’s connection to Venditte and yet more steroids.
"This was the largest steroid arrest I’ve been involved with in 20 years," Bianchi said.
During the investigation, officers confiscated 4,430 vials - each containing 10 doses of illegal anabolic steroids.
Also collected were 3,763 grams - or more than eight pounds - of raw hormone materials that originated in China, Bianchi said.
Hamill estimated that an $800 investment in raw materials from China plus some basic lab equipment could turn into a $20,000 to $30,000 profit.
Ryan and Christopher Bowers, Venditte and Rowe were meant to be paid for each repackaged set of steroids that was sent to an online purchaser, Bianchi said.
Once the four local residents were charged, the Omaha police narcotics unit, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and New York law officers built a case against the ringleader, Nicholas Cangiano, 34.
Cangiano was indicted in May in U.S. District Court in Nebraska on two counts: conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute anabolic steroids, and distribution of steroids.
The four local people arrested have been released from jail on bail, and their cases are set for trial in Douglas County District Court.
The felony charge against them carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $25,000 fine or both.
Christopher Bowers, a veteran air traffic controller at Eppley Airfield, had never been charged with a crime before in Nebraska or federal court, according to court documents. The Federal Aviation Administration said he has been suspended from his job pending the outcome of the case.
Rowe had a similarly clean record. Ryan Bowers and Venditte had not been previously charged with a drug-related crime in Nebraska.
The attorney for the Bowers men and Rowe’s lawyer declined to comment. Calls to Venditte’s attorney were not returned.
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