Jorge Velazquez, a convicted steroid supplier, choked up and began to cry before a court security officer brought him a box of Kleenex.
“I am sorry for what happened,” Velazquez told U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga on Tuesday morning.
But his apology and tears did not bring him the sympathy he sought: A sentence of less than 2 1/2 years in prison.
Altonaga sided with federal prosecutors who urged no less time for Velazquez. This fall, he pleaded guilty to supplying steroids to a Coral Gables anti-aging clinic that unlawfully sold performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone to New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez and other Major League Baseball players.
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But while Altonaga would not budge on the 2 1/2-year prison term, the Miami federal judge did grant Velazquez’s request to surrender to prison authorities on Jan. 12 rather than immediately so he could put his personal and business affairs in order.
And with that uncommon gesture, the 44-year-old Velazquez hugged his defense attorney, George Vila, and about 10 family members and friends who attended his sentencing hearing.
In court papers, Vila tried to show that his client turned to the lucrative “black market” of steroid sales after his Miami-Dade liquor business and personal life crumbled during the 2008 economic meltdown.
The defense attorney disclosed that Velazquez “furnished a laptop computer” with “significant information” that “assisted” prosecutors in making their case against a ring of steroid distributors, including the convicted former owner of the anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America. Prosecutors disagreed, saying the laptop provided “relevant” information but it has not “assisted” their investigation.
Six of the eight defendants, including the clinic’s operator, Anthony Bosch, have pleaded guilty since steroid-distribution charges were filed in August. As part of his cooperation deal, Bosch not only turned over his notebooks detailing steroid sales to Rodriguez and others, but he also agreed to testify for prosecutors.
Velazquez, though he signed a plea agreement, did not have a similar cooperation deal and did not agree to testify.
But Vila still tried to make his case for a lenient sentence on Tuesday.
“This computer was out there,” Vila argued. “The government knew of this computer and wanted it. The government’s position is that the computer had no value because the government already had the information [from Bosch’s books]. Because of this computer, they were able to corroborate a lot of information they had.”
But Altonaga reminded Vila that his client had no cooperation deal regarding the laptop, which contained four years of Biogenesis records.
“It’s of little value to the government without your client’s testimony,” the judge told Vila.
Vila also sought sympathy for his client, noting his history of cocaine and alcohol abuse, while downplaying his past criminal record and omitting his arrests on domestic battery complaints filed by his girlfriend last year.
He said his client “has changed his life for the better,” opening legitimate businesses that provide building-permit and wheel-repair services, court records show.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Sullivan strongly opposed Vila’s bid for a downward departure or variance from the sentencing guidelines, which ranged from 2 1/2 to 3 years for conspiring to distribute testosterone.
“We don’t think [it] is justified,” Sullivan told the judge, who commented that the prosecutor “capably refuted” every mitigating factor raised by Velazquez’ attorney.
Velazquez’s parents, along with his younger brother and sister, filed letters with the court, saying he has worked hard as an “entrepreneur” throughout his life to help support the family. Before he turned to the illicit steroid business, Velazquez owned two liquor stores in Kendall that he was forced to sell during the past recession.
One of Velazquez’s relatives, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, asked the judge for mercy at Tuesday’s hearing.
“He made a mistake, but we all make mistakes,” said his aunt, Angie Atkinson, who was partners with Velazquez in the liquor business. “He has learned his lesson… . He deserves a chance.”
Velazquez pleaded guilty in October to conspiring with Bosch, the convicted ex-owner of the Biogenesis clinic. Now shuttered, Biogenesis was at the center of the steroid scandal that led to last year’s lengthy suspensions of 14 Major League ballplayers, including Rodriguez, a onetime Miami-Dade high school standout.
Velazquez came to know Bosch, who pretended to be a Florida-licensed physician, as a steroid client who would become his main supplier at Biogenesis. Velazquez also operated his own local anti-aging clinic, Boca Body.
Court records show that Biogenesis paid about $62,000 to Velazquez and Boca Body for steroid drugs between 2011 and 2012.
As part of his plea agreement, Velazquez admitted that he invested in the testosterone manufacturing business of a convicted steroid chemist, Paulo Berejuk, and distributed between 5,000 and 10,000 units of testosterone through Biogenesis to athletes.
Velazquez also supplied steroids to Rodriguez’s longtime personal assistant, Yuri Sucart, even after the Yankees slugger stopped using them in the fall of 2012 and Biogenesis closed in January 2013, according to court records. Those offenses — along with an obstruction of justice charge — were dropped from the original indictment as part of Velazquez’s plea agreement.
Velazquez, who also was fined $6,000 by the judge as part of his punishment, has substantial insider knowledge about Bosch’s steroid operation, including the ringleader’s relationship with Rodriguez. Velazquez intervened on Rodriguez’s behalf to pay Bosch to keep quiet about the ballplayer’s steroid use, according to the onetime clinic owner’s statements to the Drug Enforcement Administration and Major League Baseball officials.
But Velazquez has refused to give up any information about his intermediary role to authorities. “He doesn’t want to cooperate,” his lawyer, Vila, told a Miami Herald reporter outside the courtroom.