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Confessions of a Steroid Smuggler : When the Quest for Big Muscles Turns Into a Passion for Big Money

April 24, 1988|John Eisendrath | John Eisendrath is a Los Angeles writer

AT 4:56 P.M. ON MAY 1, 1987, William Dillon entered Junior's Deli on Westwood Boulevard, sat in a booth and learned he was going to be assassinated. Leonard Swirda ordered French fries and gave him the bad news. "I'll say, 'Let's not talk here . . . ,' " Swirda said, describing how the hit would take place at a future date. "We go out to the car, I put a gun to your head, and I shoot you and throw you in the trunk, drive you to the desert, dig a hole and throw you in it. I've done it so many times."

Dillon had been one of the biggest dealers of black-market anabolic steroids in the country, and now Swirda was telling him that some of his former customers wanted him dead. For 36 minutes, Dillon led his would-be executioner in a morbid colloquy, which he was secretly taping for the federal government. What if Dillon ran away? (Swirda: "I'll find . . . where your mother lives.") Could Swirda be persuaded instead to kill those who wanted Dillon dead? The hit man calculated. ("I'm gonna have to cut their hands off and their heads off so nobody is found.") He'd do it for $40,000.

Dillon watched Swirda eat his fries. The calculus of murder was new to him. Dillon considered the human body a shrine. His 6-foot, 250-pound frame attested to his disciplined worship of the bench-press, the squat and injectable testosterone cypionate. Dillon loved to oil his delts, flex his pecs and pump iron. He looked forward to the day he could command $3,000 for a three-minute "guest pose" of his thighs.

Now Dillon's dream has been deferred; he lives in fear for his life and faces 16 years in prison. He was one of several athletes and body-builders who made national news last May when they were indicted in San Diego by the federal government for illegally buying and selling steroids. Most of the drugs, which are illegal without a doctor's prescription in the United States, were smuggled from Mexico to meet the demand of body-builders, who use them to gain bulk and strength. Twenty-three of the 34 people named in the 110-count indictment have pleaded guilty to felony charges, including smuggling, conspiracy and tax fraud, and await sentencing. They include Dillon, British Olympic silver medalist David Jenkins and Pat Jacobs, the former strength coach for the University of Miami. Swirda and two other men are to be tried for extortion this summer. Until all the cases are resolved, none of those who have pleaded guilty will be sentenced.

The federal government estimates that in 1986 and 1987, the San Diego-based group illegally sold between $2 million and $4 million worth of steroids made in Mexico and Europe to more than two dozen distributors in every region of the country. According to Phillip Halpern, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Dillon's was by far the largest steroid operation ever broken.

This is William Dillon's story, an account of life inside a steroid-smuggling ring. It is based on extensive interviews with Dillon and some of his associates and on the government's case against members of the ring, which includes numerous secretly taped conversations.

Welcome to L.A., the Land of

Serious Muscles

GOLD'S GYM IN VENICE is the Yankee Stadium of body-building. It's the house that Arnold built. Every day 1,500 Schwarzenegger disciples work out in one of three cavernous weight rooms, hoping to become the next Terminator. They grunt and groan and stare at themselves in the mirrors that line the walls, proudly noting every new bulge and vein. Above the mirrors is the pumpers pantheon: life-size posters of current and former Mr. Worlds and Mr. Universes. The champions stare down, taunting and inspiring. Keep lifting--another repetition! more weight!--and someday a picture of you, flexing in a Speedo, might be hoisted into our ranks.

William Dillon made his pilgrimage to Gold's from his small Illinois hometown in October, 1984. Though he had just won the Illinois collegiate body-building title, Dillon was no mere muscle-head. That June he had received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University. After sifting through a number of job offers, he chose Hughes Aircraft in El Segundo. The federal government gave Dillon clearance to see classified scientific material, and he went to work in the company's space and communications division and moved to West Los Angeles.

In the gym, Dillon found that champion lifters from other parts of the country get sand kicked in their faces at the Gold's near Muscle Beach. "I was a midget," says Dillon, who weighed 220 pounds at the time. "Lots of guys with my build were carrying 270 pounds. Obviously they were taking something." Dillon quickly found out what. One of the first body-builders he met at Gold's was David Grigus, whose brother he had known in Illinois. They became friends and workout partners. According to Dillon, Grigus used and sold steroids; he is one of those who eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy and interstate commerce violations.

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