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N.Y. steroids investigators target Brooklyn pharmacy

HGH and anabolic steroids worth $7.5 million seized

NEW YORK — A Brooklyn pharmacy targeted in a state steroids investigation transformed itself from an old-fashioned neighborhood druggist to a national supplier of substances used to enhance athletic performance, according to investigators and court records.

Investigators with the state health department's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement said they seized $7.5 million of dollars worth of human growth hormone and anabolic steroids on Monday and Tuesday from Lowen's Pharmacy, a decades-old shop in Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section.

The pharmacy's vice president, Edward Letendre, was arrested during the raid. Police initially planned to charge him with diverting controlled substances, but he was released by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office and has not been charged in the case.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the move, other than to say that the case would be presented to a grand jury.

It is not illegal in New York for a pharmacy to dispense steroids and human growth hormone for valid medical purposes, but it is a crime for a doctor to prescribe drugs without examining the patient.

State health officials said the raid was an offshoot of the Albany County District Attorney's investigation into Signature Pharmacy, an Orlando, Fla., company whose client lists reportedly included many professional athletes.

The District Attorney's office has been investigating illegal steroid sales for two years, targeting Signature and several distributors who used the Internet to sell prescription drugs to clients who never saw a doctor.

Lowen's already had been raided once in connection with the probe. In May, state officials seized about $200,000 worth of potentially performance-enhancing drugs during a regulatory inspection there, most of which had been shipped to the United States from China.

Pharmacy lawyer Paul Aufrichtig said the shop was cooperating with investigators and denied that its steroid and hormone sales amounted to a criminal enterprise. "Nobody has done anything illegal, to my knowledge," he said Wednesday.

Law enforcement agents wouldn't say whether the pharmacy might face charges or disciplinary action.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares said that after Signature was raided and shut down in February, as many as five "wellness centers" that had relied on the Orlando company for drugs turned to other suppliers, including Lowen's.

"Lowen's came on our radar very early on," he said Wednesday. "The other five who now lost their source of supply approached Lowen's and were dealing with Lowen's, so we were on to Lowen's as well."

Even before the raids, the Brooklyn pharmacy already had an unusual pedigree.

Records indicate the building where the pharmacy is located is owned by Julius Nasso, the movie producer who was sentenced to a year in prison in 2004 for plotting to have associates of the Gambino crime family shake down the action-film star Steven Seagal over an alleged debt.

After the initial raid on Lowen's in May, Nasso's publicist, Richard Rubenstein, told the New York Daily News that the pharmacy was then co-owned by Nasso's son. On Wednesday, Hantman said Rubenstein had misspoken.

Rubenstein didn't return phone messages Wednesday.

In addition to the drugs, investigators also have seized customer lists from the Brooklyn pharmacy. Police officials are examining evidence that at least six of its officers might have received steroids for a non-medical use. Some of those officers have undergone drug tests and could be disciplined, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.

According to court records, Lowen's rapid growth began in late 2004, after it struck up a business partnership with the proprietor of an alternative health clinic in Los Angeles.

In a lawsuit filed this year, Shirley Elzinger, a health practitioner in Beverly Hills, said she entered into a deal in which she agreed to help the store establish a new "compounding" division, which would manufacture hormone replacement medications from raw materials.

Elzinger said she turned over equipment and a client list from her existing drug compounding pharmacy and in return was supposed to have received an ownership share in Lowen's.

Instead, she charged in the suit, the co-owners of the business cheated her out of at least $3 million in revenues.

Letendre's phone number on Staten Island is unlisted. Elzinger didn't respond to a phone message. Her attorney declined to comment.

Associated Press Writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.