Associated Press Writer
ROSENBERG, Texas (AP) — Law-enforcement officials arrested 66 people in Texas and seven in four other states on Wednesday, and said they dismantled a drug ring that sold anabolic steroids and other illegal drugs.
The suspects nabbed in several early-morning raids included professional bodybuilders, gym owners, personal trainers and pharmacists. They are charged with manufacturing, selling and possessing steroids, human growth hormone, Ecstasy and other prescription drugs.
In addition to the 66 Texas arrests, seven people were arrested in California, Georgia, Indiana and Louisiana, authorities said.
Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright said the arrests represented the largest drug sting ever in the suburban county southwest of Houston. He said the ring was "loosely knit" with no clear leader or organizational structure.
Wright said authorities found several labs in Fort Bend and Houston's surrounding Harris County, where steroids were manufactured from chemicals smuggled from China. Other steroids and drugs were smuggled to Texas from Mexico, Wright said.
Some of the trainers distributed the drugs at their gyms. Others were more discreet, doing business via phone or personal Web site.
"It's one of these things where they've got their friends on speed-dial. They need a certain product, they give them a call and so forth," Wright said. "They just know each other. A lot of times they know each other by nicknames. They are well-connected to each other in that respect."
Federal and county authorities said more arrests would be made. They said none of the suspects had known links to professional athletes.
Wright said a total of 49 state warrants and 17 federal warrants were served in Texas on Wednesday.
The state charges in Texas include conspiracy to manufacture and deliver controlled substances and conspiracy to commit delivery of dangerous drugs. Each defendant arrested on those charges faces up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Zoran Yankovich, an agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, likened the suspects to drug dealers who distribute cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
"Those arrested today are no different than traditional drug dealers, peddling their poison on the street corner," Yankovich said.
Acting U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson said that in April, a federal grand jury indicted 22 people on 46 counts related to the operation, ranging from smuggling human growth hormone, money laundering, conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute Ecstasy and other charges.
If convicted of the drug-specific charges, each defendant faces up to five years in prison and fines up to $250,000. The money laundering charges hold a penalty of up to 25 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.
"I feel like we've made a pretty big footprint here today, and left an imprint that will be felt for some time in Fort Bend County," Johnson said.
Johnson said the "lead defendant" is Charles Falkenhagen, who ran a fitness center in Sugar Land, a Houston suburb in Fort Bend County. Johnson said he was illegally importing human growth hormone from a Chinese pharmaceutical company and is named in nearly all of the 46 counts of the April 30 indictment.
Wright said another suspect was caught growing 50 marijuana plants at his home.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.