In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Focus on pro baseball ignores real doping crime: Kids on steroids

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

In a considerable mischaracterization, the Biogenesis scandal has been painted as an outrage against the integrity of Major League Baseball. We’re told to revile the now-defunct “anti-aging” clinic in Coral Gables because it tempted sports heroes with performance-enhancing drugs and further sullied the reputation of the corporate conglomerate formerly known as America’s pastime.

Biogenesis not only implicated the likes of the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun along with 18 other professional baseball players in its doping racket, but — to our collective horror — did it after baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had declared doping “virtually nonexistent” and “clearly a thing of the past.”

Revelations seeping out of Biogenesis showed Selig to be a fool. And Major League Baseball, in league with the nation’s sportswriters, went after the players with such a fury that no one much noticed the real crimes perpetrated down at 1390 South Dixie Highway. Not even the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office. Not even the local cops.

According to whistleblower Porter Fischer, Biogenesis of America was doping children. Injecting high school kids with illegal and dangerous amalgamations of anabolic steroids and human growth hormones. Along with professional and college athletes, the “patient” list at the storefront clinic included Miami-Dade high school ball players, come to emulate their pro heroes and cheat their way to stardom.

That should have been cause for outrage. But as Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown reported last week, these felonies were simply shrugged off by local law enforcement. Brown interviewed Fischer, the former employee and investor in Biogenesis turned whistleblower who, armed with incriminating documents filched from the clinic, ignited this latest pro baseball scandal.

But Fischer also offered up evidence of criminal medical procedures involving children. He told Brown that he had notified authorities that young athletes, mostly baseball players, from Gulliver, Columbus, St. Brendan, South Miami and other South Florida high schools had also been juiced at Biogenesis by Anthony Bosch, the clinic’s counterfeit doctor, who prescribed his pharmaceutical concoctions without the bother of a medical degree.

You want the stuff of outrage? Consider this quote from Fischer’s lawyer: “I don’t know why law enforcement hasn’t gotten involved, to be honest,” Raymond Rafool told Brown. “We really can’t figure it out. Porter is very upset. You’re talking about high school kids getting this stuff from this clinic. For kids who haven’t even given their bodies the opportunity to grow to be doing this was really disturbing to him.”

Disturbing to him. Not to law enforcement. Not to the Miami-Dade state attorney.

Bosch got off with a $5,000 fine for practicing medicine without a license, levied by the Florida Department of Health — pocket change in the highly profitable, ethically bankrupt world of “anti-aging clinics.”

Why no interest from local cops? Probably because the client list, as Brown reported, also included local cops (along with some lawyers and at least one judge.) It would be like expecting elementary schoolchildren to shut down Cold Stone Creamery.

Go back to 1987, when steroids were cited as a contributing factor in the Miami River Cops scandal. In 1991, the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin warned, “Anabolic steroid abuse by police officers is a serious problem.”

The same concerns about pumped-up steroid-abusing bodybuilder cops were echoed in a report published in the 2008 edition of the journal Police Chief. (Earlier this month, six firefighters and cops in metro Atlanta were implicated in a steroid-peddling ring.)

When the feds raided PowerMedica, a pharmaceutical distributor based in Deerfield Beach in 2004, they discovered the names of eight Broward sheriff’s deputies, four Palm Beach County deputies, 13 West Palm Beach city cops and three Delray Beach policemen on the company’s list of regular steroid customers.

Federal investigators reported that PowerMedica customers — one hates to call them patients — simply faxed over the results of their blood tests. A company doctor issued hundreds of prescriptions for steroids — without ever laying eyes on their “patients.”

Federal investigators said the scheme blatantly flouted the 1990 Anabolic Steroid Control Act. Somehow, what was obvious to the feds wasn’t so obvious to the South Florida cops. Yet there were no repercussions for the Broward cops. A few of the West Palm Beach policemen were given one- or two-day suspensions.

A year later, the Star-Ledger in Newark exposed a New Jersey steroid mill that had provided muscle-building drugs to cops and firefighters from 53 different police agencies. “In most cases, if not all, they used their government health plans to pay for the substances.

Evidence gathered by The Star-Ledger suggests the total cost to taxpayers reaches into the millions of dollars,” the newspaper reported.

Steroids and, lately, human growth hormone, drugs dispensed to puff up muscle boys, seem to be a category of illegal drug abuse heartily embraced by law enforcement.

Even, apparently, when their favorite drug profiteer is allegedly also injecting children.

Perhaps Bosch has been deemed worthy of immunity from prosecution because he has been so cooperative with Major League Baseball’s investigation of players who embarrassed the league when their names showed up on his patient list.

Of course, Bosch seemed to be nudged into cooperation less by a personal moral reawakening than an MLB battery of lawyers and the threat of costly litigation.

But I’m not sure folks put all that much value on the integrity of MLB. Most of us consider cheating by pro baseball — the same outfit that just cheated Miami-Dade County taxpayers out of a half-billion dollars for a stadium (not counting interest) — as less of a crime than pumping kids full of steroids.

In the PowerMedica case, pursued by the feds instead of our pumped-up local cops, there was hell to pay for the steroid peddlers. In 2011, in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, the three principal players in the Deerfield Beach clinic were packed off for 51, 46 and 30 months, respectively, in federal prison.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a statement explaining why the doctor, dentist and clinic operator — all first offenders — were facing a hard time. “The defendants all admitted that they knew that the hGH [human growth hormone] and anabolic steroids PowerMedica distributed were being used for bodybuilding, athletic performance enhancement, and anti-aging purposes.”

The PowerMedica business plan sounds identical to the scam employed by Biogenesis.

Except that PowerMedica employed an actual licensed doctor, as opposed to Anthony Bosch, who has an undergraduate degree from Belize.

Except that PowerMedica was not accused of doling out steroids to minors.

Except that the boys running PowerMedica went to prison, while Bosch, thanks to a collective shrug from Miami-Dade law enforcement, got off with a $5,000 fine.

Of course, Bosch did help Major League Baseball get the all-star slugger Ryan Braun suspended for 65 games. Count them: 65 games.

An appropriate penalty, surely, for the crime of the century.

So much more serious, at least in Miami-Dade County, than doping local high school kids.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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