Steroids Sold on MySpace, Official Says
NEW HAVEN, Sept. 26 — Steroids have long been sold in gyms and locker rooms, through the mail and at weight-lifting competitions. Now, the authorities here say teenagers can purchase them by browsing their favorite social-networking Web site.
Among the more than 120 arrests announced on Monday in what the authorities called the largest steroids crackdown in the nation’s history, five men charged in a Connecticut sting stood out not for what they were peddling, but for where they were suspected of doing it: on MySpace.com.
For teenagers who flock to the Web site to watch videos and connect with friends, ordering anabolic steroids took no more than a few extra mouse clicks, the authorities said. And with the Web site’s popularity among young people, some coaches in this area described the case as an unpleasant reminder about how easily minors can surreptitiously obtain performance-enhancing drugs.
In an indictment unsealed on Friday, four men — three from Arizona and one from Pennsylvania — are accused of purchasing raw steroid powder from China, manufacturing the drugs in home-based laboratories and selling the finished products through a MySpace profile and an online store they created. The investigation also netted a Florida man who advertised and distributed steroids through his MySpace page. He pleaded guilty on Friday in federal court in Hartford, said Kevin J. O’Connor, the United States attorney in Connecticut.
“Of particular concern to us is obviously the use of profiles on MySpace.com, which gives us concern that this might in fact be a way to market to minors and to children,” Mr. O’Connor said at a news conference earlier this week. “Some of the methods that we’ve uncovered in this investigation lead us to conclude that it may not just be adults that are being marketed to.”
MySpace users could initiate a purchase by sending a message through a seller’s profile, Mr. O’Connor said.
Beyond what the authorities disclosed, a cursory search on the site this week revealed a profile of a 27-year-old woman from Tempe, Ariz., that linked to an online pharmacy that sells “only genuine” steroids. “If you’re looking for anabolic supplements,” the woman wrote in a post on her profile, “you are in the right place.” Another profile, of a steroid-proffering online pharmacy, listed a 16-year-old high school student among its “friends.”
MySpace and other networking sites are already under pressure from state attorneys general, including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, to increase their efforts to protect minors from sexual predators. Mr. Blumenthal said the presence of steroid operators on MySpace was another reason the company and others like it must implement more safeguards.
“Our focus as attorneys general has been on pornography and predators, but marketing illegal drugs is equally troubling and certainly shows the need for stronger controls and verification of age and identity,” he said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Those measures would render the Web sites useless for anyone seeking to sell contraband, Mr. Blumenthal said. “To put it very bluntly, if a seller of steroids knows that his identity will be checked and his age verified, he is much less likely to use a social-networking site,” he said.
Representatives of MySpace, which is owned by News Corporation, did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article.
The authorities in Connecticut said they planned to seek those who bought steroids from the men who were charged — especially if they were coaches, teachers or students.
“If they’re minors, we want to give them a wake-up call, let their parents know what their kids are doing,” Mr. O’Connor said. “Certainly it wouldn’t be surprising, I don’t think, if kids are using steroids, based on what we know today.”
That is what worries some coaches in this area.
“Absolutely it’s a concern,” said Craig W. Semple, the athletic director at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, where six students were arrested and charged with possessing steroids in 2005.
Mr. Semple said student-athletes are taught about the dangers of steroids and train at school facilities instead of in private gyms. But on the Internet, he said, there is little a school can do to protect them.
Tom Brockett, head coach of the top-ranked football team at Ansonia High School, said he was concerned about the freedom young people have with computers.
“The problem is, kids can get anything online, any day, anything they need,” Mr. Brockett said. “The more it’s thrown in their face, the easier it’s going to be.”
The four men indicted — Edwin F. Porter, 41, and Matthew J. Peltz, 36, of Chandler, Ariz.; Tyler J. Lunn, 27, of Phoenix; and Walter T. Corey, 37, of Charleroi, Pa. — face up to 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine if convicted on the steroids charges. A fifth man, Brian S. Tompkins, 29, of Deltona, Fla., is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 10 and will probably face at least two years in prison.
A sixth man, Alan R. Blair, 52, of Wilton, Conn., pleaded guilty on Monday to selling human growth hormone on an Internet site, though not through MySpace.
The 18-month investigation, called Operation Phony Pharm, is continuing, said Kimberly K. Mertz, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I. in Connecticut. More arrests are expected, she said.