MIAMI, FL — Federal agents arrested seven people in the Miami area on Wednesday and shut down a popular gym suspected of being part of an illegal steroid distribution ring.
The Iron Addicts Gym in Miami was closed as agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration executed a federal warrant on the business, according to federal law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation in New York. The source said that fitness equipment was seized in Wednesday’s raid.
Two other people in the Phoenix area were also charged in connection with the alleged steroids ring while federal agents searched for a 10th person in the Phoenix area.
The investigation left Miami area fitness enthusiasts disappointed as they watched gym equipment being carried out of the facility.
"My heart is broken," one woman told Local 10 News. "Honestly, I was looking forward to training here. I came all the way from Europe."
A complaint was unsealed on Tuesday ahead of the arrests in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn charging the 10 defendants with operating an international steroid manufacturing and distribution ring.
The seven Miami area defendants were arraigned on Wednesday at the U.S. Courthouse in Miami. Two defendants were to be arraigned at the U.S. Courthouse in Phoenix, Arizona and the remaining defendant was still being sought in Phoenix.
Federal officials identified the defendants as 37-year-old Richard Rodriguez of Miami, 36-year-old John Ferrell of Miami, 39-year-old Nancy Melo-Rodriguez of Miami, 37-year-old Jonathan Gonzalez of Miami, 29-year-old Erick Vittitow of Miami, 34-year-old Bader Alaskari of North Bay Village and 43-year-old Bernard Duran of Miramar.
Arrested in the Phoenix area were 34-year-old Edward Jacob Liff and 30-year-old Xzavier Apodaca, both of Phoenix. Agents were still attempting to locate 37-year-old Byron Oliver of Phoenix.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers in New York and Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New Jersey Division Carl J. Kotowski.
The case stems from an investigation into the Miami-based company, Wellness Fitness Nutrition, LLC.
Founder and CEO Richard Rodriguez allegedly represented WFN to be an "FDA compliant" pharmacy and laboratory licensed to distribute anabolic steroids, which are controlled substances under federal law.
"In fact, the investigation revealed that WFN was not licensed by the DEA to distribute steroids and routinely dispensed steroids to customers without the requisite medical prescriptions," according to federal officials. "WFN marketed and sold its wide array of anabolic steroids through its website: www.wellnessfitnessnutrition.com."
During the year-long investigation which began in 2015, special agents and task force officers tracked the purchase of raw steroid materials by WFN from various companies in China. The investigation was led by the New Jersey DEA Tactical Diversion Squad.
"This raw steroid powder was shipped to a clandestine laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona where it was subsequently manufactured by the defendants into both liquid and pill-form steroids," according to federal officials. "The finished steroid product was then sent back to Miami where it was labeled, packaged and shipped to WFN’s domestic and international customers."
Federal officials said that agents and task force officers made undercover purchases from WFN defendants of "illicit anabolic steroids" totaling more than $30,000.
"Additionally, the financial investigation into WFN revealed that the company laundered over a million dollars in illicit proceeds back into the operation of its national distribution ring and moved at least $10 million dollars in illicit proceeds through various WFN and related entities’ bank accounts," officials added.
In addition to Iron Addicts, federal agents also executed search warrants at the "clandestine lab" in Phoenix, at WFN offices in Miami as well as a shipping facility in Miami.
"As alleged, the defendants made millions of dollars through the illicit online sales of anabolic steroids while operating under the guise of an ‘FDA-compliant’ health and wellness business," stated Capers. "This case serves as a message that my office and our law enforcement partners will not allow the widespread illegal distribution of anabolic steroids to go unchecked."
Assisting with the investigation were the DEA Arizona Division, DEA Miami Division, Homeland Security Investigations New Jersey Division, Customs and Border Protection Port of New York/Newark, and U.S. Postal Service Inspection Service New Jersey Division.
"The results of this investigation send a clear message to the public. It doesn’t matter if you are peddling heroin, cocaine or steroids. If you break the law, we will dedicate the necessary resources to put an end to this type of distribution," added DEA Special Agent in Charge Kotowski.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael T. Keilty and Kaitlin T. Farrell. Assistant U.S. Attorney Claire Kedeshian of the office’s Civil Division is responsible for the seizure and forfeiture of assets.