Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Big names, not kids drew scrutiny to Biogenesis drug scandal

The feds got their priorities right in the Biogenesis scandal. The real outrage was that jock doc Anthony Bosch peddled his illegal concoctions to children.

Before Bosch and his cohorts were busted this week on charges of pumping performance-enhancing drugs into athletes and would-be athletes, his operation had been couched as an affront to Major League Baseball. It had been all about A-Rod and the 13 other professional baseball players suspended for indulging in PEDs supplied by Bosch.

The kids? Well they weren't much more than an afterthought.

But the first words out of U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer‘s mouth at Tuesday’s press conference announcing the arrest of Bosch and his fellows were about the teenagers who had been lured into Bosch’s Coral Gables clinic. The young athletes paid $250 to $600 a month for hypodermic needles filled with Bosch’s special cocktails of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and testosterone.

“Many of these kids attended public and private schools all throughout South Florida. Prior to starting these illegal PED programs, these underage athletes were never examined by a licensed medical professional in connection with the treatment they received from Bosch,” Ferrer said.

Although Bosch liked to call himself “Dr. T,” and paraded around his clinic in a physician's smock, he had no medical degree. “Let me make this clear,” Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Mark R. Trouville said of Bosch. “He is not a doctor. He is a drug dealer.”

“These youngsters had no idea what they were putting into their bodies,” Trouville told reporters. “When you’re talking about PEDs in the black market, we’re talking about some clown in his basement, with a bucket and a burner, and a very dangerously limited knowledge of chemistry. And these chemicals were going in our children’s bodies.”

Trouville said at least 18 local kids between 15 and 17 were treated by Bosch. But the operation also supplied black market PEDs to a sleazy sports management operation in the Dominican Republic that corrupted children as young as 12.

Children as young as 12. Yet the contemptible practices of Biogenesis would have gone unremarked had the original story — broken by the Miami New Times last year — not included the names of big-time baseball stars. No one cared about dangerous and illegal pharmaceuticals doled out to the community by a counterfeit doctor until names like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera showed up on his patient list.

That’s what brought MLB investigators to South Florida and aroused the national sports media machine. If Bosch had limited his practice to teenagers and cops (reportedly, the names of several South Florida police officers were on his customer list), he might have escaped scrutiny.

Certainly, the Florida Department of Health demonstrated scant interest in shutting down Biogenesis. The agency fined Bosch $5,000 last year for practicing medicine without a license, but later reduced the penalty to just $3,000.

In fairness to FDH, someone stole a cache of Biogenesis files from the car of a whistle-blower who had intended to turn them over to the department’s investigators. Somehow the purloined documents turned up in the possession of MLB’s private investigators and were crucial evidence when the league handed out suspensions to 14 players.

Not that the Department of Health has much regulatory power over the 500 or so anti-aging or weight-loss clinics in Florida that dole out steroids and human growth hormone and testosterone and drugs for uses never approved by the FDA.

Outliers escape scrutiny by slithering through a loophole in state law. Healthcare clinics in Florida must be licensed and regulated by the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration; except, “clinics” are defined under state law, oddly, as operations that “tender charges for reimbursement.”

The state interprets the phrase to mean only health clinics that bill third parties — Medicare, Medicaid or insurance companies. Or perhaps credit card companies.

Which means, under the peculiarities of Florida law, that “cash only” clinics can operate without a license, without oversight. Which provides operators like Anthony Bosch a fine refuge from nosy state regulators, where he might have remained in business if he had stuck to drugging kids and cops instead of MLB superstars.

State Sen. Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood managed to push a bill through the Florida Senate last spring that would have broadened the definition of healthcare clinics to include medical operations that accept all manner of reimbursement. Her bill was designed to rein in these outlaw practices, which are popping up around Florida like the anti-pain pill mills that plagued the state in the previous decade.

Her bill, however, faltered in the House of Representatives. And cash-only, unlicensed, unscrupulous operations like Biogenesis were allowed to keep on pumping unapproved, dangerous drugs into Floridians. Maybe that’s the real outrage.