This past week, the last of the accused, Gautam Srivastava, a former University of Victoria computer science professor and youth baseball coach, pleaded guilty in provincial court in Vancouver to one count of smuggling.
However, a judge stayed the case after finding that Srivastava had faced an unreasonable delay in the proceedings due to a late request by the Crown that investigators obtain additional evidence.
“A stay ends the prosecution, despite the guilty plea,” said federal prosecutor Alexandra Rice, who had been seeking a two-year sentence. “In other words, he will not have a criminal record.”
A CBSA spokeswoman said in a statement that investigators had still “dismantled a major steroid-smuggling ring and prevented a significant amount of illicit drugs from entering our communities.”
Public awareness campaigns have repeatedly warned of the dangers of steroids — a synthetic version of testosterone — to increase muscle mass, strength and speed.
“Increased speed. Increased breast size,” says an ad posted on the website of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). “Bigger Muscles. Smaller testicles.”
Yet, data from the CBSA show steroids have consistently ranked among the top drugs seized after marijuana.
“That is disturbing and suggests a more significant problem than we’re aware of,” said Paul Melia, president and CEO of the CCES, recalling the doping scandal several years ago that led to a one-year suspension of the University of Waterloo’s football team.
Part of the problem, Melia said, is that people are using steroids not just to improve performance but also their body image.
Authorities alleged that Srivastava, of Saanich, B.C., and Jason Eggleston, a body builder in Winnipeg, helped feed that demand from 2009 to 2014 by leading a lucrative operation.
The allegations were contained in search warrant and production order applications — or Information to Obtain documents — filed by CBSA investigator Kevin Varga.
According to the documents, raw steroid powder was imported from China, Thailand and the Philippines, typically in small packages to avoid scrutiny, and picked up at numerous mailboxes. Payments were wired through Western Union.
The powder was turned into liquids or pills at a Vancouver condo that had been converted into a lab, complete with a soundproof room, the documents state. The finished product was shipped to customers under the label “Kayne Pharmaceuticals.”
For a time, things seemed to be going well.
Eggleston boasted in an email in 2012 that Kayne was the “highest rated brand there is across the country” and noted that he and his partner had fetched $20,000 in one week, according to the search warrant documents.
Things began to unravel when CBSA officers intercepted packages destined for one of Eggleston’s associates, Greg Doucette, a bodybuilder in Halifax. Authorities raided his home, storage locker and car in August 2012 and seized $250,000 in steroids and thousands in cash. He was later fined $50,000 and given a 20-month conditional sentence for smuggling and distribution.
Doucette had turned to steroids in order to “fulfill his ambitions and dreams and obtain product endorsements,” according to a sentencing hearing transcript.
The investigation led authorities to Eggleston’s Winnipeg home in November 2012. Search warrant documents show that as agents approached, he tossed a BlackBerry phone into a koi pond. Authorities recovered the phone and seized six others, along with a stash of steroids and “score sheets.”
Despite the scrutiny from authorities, the underground operation continued.
In a PIN-to-PIN communication in early 2013, Eggleston and Srivastava discussed trading 500 bottles of their finished product with another group that was smuggling raw powder, search warrant documents state.
The same records suggest that Eggleston and Srivastava, who authorities said went by the alias Ben Lobb, didn’t always hold their associates in the highest esteem.
“Can you forward some info to dumb dumbs” Srivastava wrote in one exchange.
In another, Eggleston asked Srivastava to send instructions to one of their associates. “Be very clear,” he wrote. “Baby talk.”
At one point, the pair noticed a competitor was getting good reviews. Srivastava wondered whether their associates could be “pinching product” — which Varga, the investigator, interpreted as stealing or working for the competition.
“I don’t think so,” Eggleston replied, noting that their workers were “very honourable.”
Eggleston was charged in November 2013 and later pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling. He was handed a two-year conditional sentence. The judge noted that he had used profits to renovate his home and finance his spouse’s education, but that he had also shown “significant remorse,” according to a sentencing transcript.
The same month Eggleston was charged, authorities arrested Srivastava in a parking lot at the University of Victoria. Inside his car they found a shipping package containing steroids disguised as Chinese laundry detergent, search warrant documents state.
In his home, they found boxes from China or Hong Kong labelled as “living supplies” or “lotus root starch,” mailbox rental agreements, and containers labelled “Kayne Pharmaceuticals,” the records show.
Even though Srivastava had a “modest” yearly income from 2009 to 2012, a 2012 BMO investor trading summary found in his home showed he had purchased $260,000 in GICs, according to a production order application. There was also evidence on his computer that an RBC savings account had a balance of about $280,000 in 2013.
Authorities raided the Vancouver lab in February 2014. They found 22 kilograms of raw powdered steroids valued at more than $2 million, electric pill presses, $15,000 cash, 150,000 pills, 5,600 vials and 250 dropper bottles.
At the time, Srivastava denied knowing Eggleston or having any involvement with anabolic steroids. He said he thought he was being framed, court records state. But in September 2014, a production order served on Western Union showed he had sent more than $150,000 to Asia in over 200 transactions.
In January 2015, charges were announced against Srivastava and three other B.C. men.
William Baturin, a father of five who is said to have received and sent equipment for the lab, pleaded guilty to possession for the purposes of trafficking and was given a nine-month conditional sentence.
His brother Simon Baturin, who is said to have run the lab, pleaded guilty to possession of unlawfully imported goods and was given an 18-month conditional sentence and a $10,000 fine. Court heard a handwritten note was found in his home titled, “What to do with the money.”
Hubert Sims, who was involved in mailing finished product to customers, pleaded guilty to the possession of unlawfully imported goods and received a six-month conditional sentence and a fine of $12,000.
Last week, Srivastava pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling controlled substances. However, Judge Frances Howard issued a stay, agreeing with the defence that the case, which had stretched beyond 22 months, had dragged on unnecessarily. (Earlier this year, a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision said provincial court matters must be resolved within 18 months).
Neither Srivastava nor his lawyer, John Green, responded to multiple requests for comment. Srivastava is now a faculty member at Brandon University in Manitoba.
The Greater Victoria Baseball Association says it has severed ties with Srivastava, who was once coach and general manager of the Victoria Eagles club. However, an interview with Srivastava still lives on Baseball BC’s YouTube channel.
“I had a lot of really good role models growing up as coaches and I want to be that kind of person for young kids,” he says.http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/news/canada/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/project-juice-how-texts-and-emails-unravelled-a-massive-steroid-trafficking-ring