Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chris Benoit's Other Steroid Connection, Part Two

A central figure in the Albany investigation is a wealthy real estate developer, a Christian and fiancial supporter of Olympic wrestlers. - AC

Olympic Booster Tied to Clinic in Drug Inquiry
Marc Serota for The New York Times
March 7, 2007
The Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center is under investigation for the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs.

JUPITER, Fla., March 6 — A businessman and wrestling booster who has sponsored Olympic and school-age athletes is under investigation by state and federal authorities examining the distribution of steroids and human growth hormone, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case.

The booster, Joseph L. Raich, is the vice president of Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, a business here offering hormone and antiaging treatments. The center was described as a nexus of illegal drug activity in charges filed Monday against the company’s president and medical director.

Mr. Raich was not charged, but the authorities seized steroid and human growth hormone supplies from his desk last week, according to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement document. And he continues to be under investigation over possible involvement with bogus prescriptions or illegal distribution, the law enforcement official said Tuesday.

He added that Mr. Raich had been talking with investigators.

Mr. Raich, 44, is well known here for having sponsored the 2004 United States Olympic freestyle wrestling team, allowing members to stay at his home and to use local training facilities during a week that June, two months before the Athens Olympics. The 9,000-square-foot home has a pool and personal chef.

Mr. Raich is also active in youth wrestling. Last year, Jupiter Christian School became the smallest school in Florida history to win a state team championship in the sport. Three members of the team, including two individual state champions, came from the Raich family. The Raiches also sponsor an annual wrestling tournament at the school.

Mr. Raich and Jupiter Christian school officials declined to comment Tuesday. No one has accused any of the wrestlers for the school or the Olympic squad of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Kevin Jackson, the national freestyle wrestling coach, said in a telephone interview that the team’s trip to Florida, including its placement in Mr. Raich’s home, was arranged by the Palm Beach County Community Olympic Development Program. That program was recognized by the United States Olympic Committee but is now defunct.

“We knew that he was involved in some kind of medical center or rehabilitation center,” Mr. Jackson said. “But we had no idea that he may have been doing some of the things that have just been made public.”

Darryl Seibel, a spokesman for the U.S.O.C., said, “Without prejudging anyone’s guilt or innocence, we had no knowledge at all about any business activities Mr. Raich may have been involved in.”

In a telephone interview, Gary Abbott, the director of communications for USA Wrestling, which is partly financed and affiliated with the U.S.O.C., said of Mr. Raich, “To be honest with you, I think we only know him as a wrestling leader in Florida, and we are not aware of his business dealings.”

The Olympic practice sessions were held in the John Raich Wrestling Room at Cardinal Newman High School. The room was named after Joseph Raich’s brother John, a 1983 Florida state wrestling champion who, according to USA Wrestling’s Web site, was killed in a boating accident after his senior year of high school.

Joseph Raich is also a real estate developer and an investor in addition to working at the center. He had offices there until it closed after a raid by law enforcement authorities Feb. 27. (A satellite clinic in Palm Beach Gardens remained open.) The investigation, led in part by the Albany County district attorney because of tough drug laws in New York, is focusing on distributors of the drugs and the doctors who falsify prescriptions, not on users. So far, 13 people have been charged.

Authorities, acting under a sealed search warrant, seized steroids, growth hormone, syringes and business records, including Mr. Raich’s tax records, during the search of the rejuvenation center offices, according to a receipt of the items seized in the search that was filed with the court.

From Mr. Raich’s desk specifically, they reported seizing 13 Genotropin MiniQuicks, a growth hormone in a cartridge designed for easy attachment to needles to inject; one Norditropin growth hormone product made by Norvo Nordisk that advertises the ability to remain potent without being refrigerated; and one full bottle of Ultratest 250, a combination of anabolic steroids.

Mr. Raich’s office had also been used as headquarters of the Wrestling Club of the Palm Beaches Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes youth wrestling. Mr. Raich was a co-founder of the club with high school coaches and others in March 2003. It is listed on the Florida Amateur Wrestling Association’s Web site as a chartered club of USA Wrestling. The wrestling association describes itself as the official organization representing USA Wrestling in Florida.

Robert Kamperman, an association board member, said that Mr. Raich had not been involved with the group for more than two years.

“There were differences in opinions between Raich and the board over the direction of the association,” he said. “Raich and a group of others put forward a proposal to assume total responsibility for all our Florida national teams. But the offer was turned down by the board.”

Mr. Raich listed his e-mail address as in a listing for the Wrestling Club of the Palm Beaches on a Web directory kept by the Florida Amateur Wrestling Association. He identified himself as the head coach of the wrestling club.

Also part of the same complex of offices is a company called RXHGH Inc., which was founded in April 2003 by Mr. Raich along with Glen Stefanos, who is also the president of the rejuvenation center. (His name was spelled Stefanos in criminal filings but Stephanos in business filings.)

Mr. Stefanos; his brother George Stefanos; and the center’s medical director, Dr. Robert Carlson, were charged Monday in Albany County with seven counts of criminal sale of prescriptions and controlled substances. They all pleaded not guilty.

Dr. Carlson’s criminal defense lawyer, Charles R. Holloman of Ocala, Fla., said Dr. Carlson did nothing intentionally wrong and had been advised that his prescribing practices were legal.

Other tenants in the office building said the rejuvenation center was raided by federal agents about one year ago, but reopened the next day.

Steroids and human growth hormone are widely used by body builders and other athletes seeking a chemical boost in strength and power. Their side effects may include joint pain, diabetes and increased risk of cancer. They are illegal without a prescription. The drugs are also increasingly promoted as a cure for a host of age-related ills, although distributing or prescribing them that way is illegal.

A posting on Craigslist in Miami on Feb. 16 had a title of “Human Growth Hormone — The Fountain of Youth Is Available to You,” and a listing of Brianna Raich. She included her e-mail address and identified herself as an assistant sales representative for Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center. It is unclear what her relationship is to Joseph Raich.

“We are one of the leading suppliers of Human Growth Hormone, which has been called ‘The Fountain of Youth,’ ” Brianna Raich wrote. “The effects of using HGH are remarkable and unfortunately I cannot list them all on this page. A few to name are increased muscle mass, decrease in fat percentage, women say bye to cellulite, increased energy, stamina, improvement in skin, etc. etc.”

Brianna Raich, 20, did not respond to e-mail and telephone messages.