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Pharmacy raid linked to athletes

Owners are arrested on suspicion of distributing illegal steroids and other substances. Angels' Matthews is said to be among customers.

February 28, 2007|Bill Shaikin and Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writers

Baseball braced itself for yet another drug scandal Tuesday when federal and state agents raided a Florida pharmacy and arrested its owners on suspicion of illegal distribution of controlled substances, including steroids and human growth hormone.

The raid followed a yearlong investigation in four states looking into allegations that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs may have been distributed to athletes, including major league and NFL players, the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union reported Tuesday.

Gary Matthews Jr., the Angels' new $50-million center fielder, was among those customers, according to the Times-Union report that cited unnamed "sources with knowledge of the investigation." David Soares, the Albany County district attorney, would not name any potential users at a news conference, but he nodded agreement when asked whether the Times-Union report was accurate, according to Reuters.

Soares said that while "athletes and celebrities" were among the consumers involved, the investigation focused on doctors, pharmacists and other alleged distributors, not on users.

"Our focus here is to shut down distribution channels," he said.

Matthews, who could not be reached for comment late Tuesday, left the Angels' Arizona training complex in the early afternoon, following an intrasquad game. His agent, Scott Leventhal, did not respond to several messages.

The player met with General Manager Bill Stoneman and Manager Mike Scioscia about noon Tuesday, immediately after the Angels learned of the Times-Union report.

"We made him aware of the article, but that's as far as we've gone with it," Scioscia said. "There's a lot of information that needs to develop before you can even understand what's happening."

Scioscia did not say whether Matthews denied the report or explained how his name might have come up.

"That wasn't part of our conversation," Scioscia said. "This is the first we've heard of anything. Everything is sketchy right now. We won't know a course of action until we see what the details are."

The Angels drew criticism for signing Matthews to a five-year contract last winter, after he had followed six undistinguished seasons with one excellent one. Stoneman would not say whether he suspected the breakout season might have been drug-aided.

"I can't speculate or comment on that," Stoneman said.

Under baseball's drug policy, first-time offenders are subject to a 50-game suspension. A player convicted of using a prohibited substance can be suspended even if he has not failed a drug test.

Jason Grimsley was suspended and quit baseball last year, after government agents followed a shipment of human growth hormones to his Arizona home. The relief pitcher was not charged or convicted of a crime and had never failed a drug test. However, he was suspended after admitting he used banned substances during his career.

Spokesmen for the Angels, MLB and the players' union said authorities in the case had not contacted their organizations.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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