Doctor charged in Brooklyn steroid case

February 10, 2009 3:15:13 PM PST
A doctor, his health clinic and a pharmacy have been charged with illegally providing steroids to bodybuilders, weightlifters and others, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said Dr. Richard Lucente wrote prescriptions to patients who had no medical need for them, then steered them to a pharmacy in return for $30,000 in kickbacks. Besides the kickbacks, Lucente collected about $500,000 in fees from about 220 clients who were provided with steroids or other illegal substances, the prosecutor said.

A Staten Island bodybuilder named Joe Baglio, who had had a heart transplant, received steroids illegally from Lucente and died of heart failure, Hynes said.

"He gained a reputation as someone who would sell ... to any bodybuilder, weightlifter or athlete," Hynes said.

Lucente, a 37-year-old osteopath, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a 76-count indictment including criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance and reckless endangerment. He was released on $20,000 bail and is due back in court on May.

Defense attorney John Meringolo called the charges "absurd," portraying his client as a community doctor. "He saved people's lives," Meringolo said. "He helped people all over the community. We believe he will be vindicated at trial."

Records seized from a Brooklyn pharmacy named in Tuesday's indictment indicated that its clientele included several NYPD officers who worked out at the same gym, prompting an internal affairs investigation. Investigators tested 19 officers tested for steroids. Six were positive. All were either suspended or given desk duty.

Asked Tuesday about Hynes' probe, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the NYPD has a strict anti-steroid policy. The department began randomly testing officers for steroids last year after reports that the ring was supplying pumped-up officers.

"You can't use steroids when you're in the department," Kelly said.

The district attorney declined to comment on the involvement of police or firefighters, citing federal health confidentiality laws.

The announcement came a day after Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez acknowledged that he took steroids while playing with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03. President Barack Obama expressed his disappointment at his first presidential news conference Monday.

"If you're a fan of major league baseball, I think it tarnishes an entire era, to some degree," Obama said.

The charges in the Brooklyn case stem from an investigation into a network of steroids-peddling health clinics and pharmacies in Florida, Alabama, New York and Texas.

One of them, Lowen's Pharmacy in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section, was named as a defendant in Tuesday's indictment, along with Lucente's Staten Island-based New York Anti-Aging & Wellness Medical Services.

The pharmacy has been raided at least twice by state narcotics investigators, who confiscated steroids, customer records and a supply of Chinese-made human grown hormone with an estimated market value of $7.5 million.

It is not illegal in New York for a pharmacy to dispense steroids and human growth hormone for valid medical purposes, but their activities are tightly regulated and it is a crime for a doctor to prescribe drugs without examining the patient.

According to court records, Lowen's became a national supplier of banned substances in late 2004 after it struck up a business partnership with the proprietor of an alternative health clinic in Los Angeles.

The owner of the pharmacy, John Rossi, fatally shot himself last year amid the criminal probe into the store's sales of performance-enhancing drugs. Rossi, 56, was named in former Sen. George Mitchell's report on drug use in baseball.

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