LONGVIEW, Texas (KETK) – When you think of illegal drugs, substances like marijuana or meth may come to mind.
But what about steroids?
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), more than 1 million Americans use the drug illegally.
KETK went on a ride-along with DEA agents right here in East Texas as they busted an alleged illegal kingpin.
When you think of illegal steroids, what comes to mind? A guy with big muscles bulging through a t-shirt, or perhaps a star athlete.
Men and women building muscle, relying on “the juice” to get a competitive edge.
But it’s not just bodybuilders and athletes.
Everyday gym members could be using the drug, too, injecting something that could be dangerous.
You can’t get steroids legally without a prescription from your doctor, causing many to start cooking up steroids in home labs.
“You literally don’t know what you’re getting, you don’t know whether some of these chemicals that we seized today were from China. We can’t guarantee what those chemicals are, and the people that shipped them to the United States don’t care,” explains Jeff Kennamer, Supervisory Special Agent of the Tyler DEA office.
In Longview, it’s business as usual. In a plaza housing several businesses, people come and go as they please.
In one store international business is conducted.
The product, steroids. The profit, staggering.
“We estimate thousands, thousands of boxes of steroids being shipped right out of this facility here our of this location,” says Kennamer.
Law enforcement was first tipped off from its intelligence database alerting them of illegal business.
More than 37,000 doses of pills and tablets and 1,000 doses of liquid injectable steroids. All produced in a small storefront in Longview, seized before it was shipped to customers who ordered them online.
“Some of that equipment is not your normal day to day pill-producing equipment. That is elaborate high-dollar equipment there that’s capable of making a lot of pills, a lot of steroids tablets in this case, and again tons of liquid in there too, tons in there that’s being made into steroids,” explains Kennamer.
From the East, China, to here in East Texas, steroids are being sent to eager users.
“A lot of the chemicals that are used to make steroids come from overseas, they come from China, and you don’t know what kind of chemicals those actually are,” Kennamer continues. “Then you get a person here, an individual who’s making tons of steroids, and they’re being shipped off all over the United States. That can be just as deadly as cocaine or methamphetamine.”
The man who ran the steroid factory is now in custody, working with law enforcement officials.
His identity is hidden as he continues to connect the dots in this massive operation.
“We can’t just stop right here and say okay we seized a manufacturing facility for steroids that’s great. We need to know where the shipments were coming from, from overseas, who all was receiving shipments of steroids, how much were they receiving, is this stuff being distributed in the local gyms in Longview, Tyler or East Texas,” says Kennamer.
He was in business for at least 8 months before showing up on the DEA’s radar, so how did he get caught?
“We can track things like purchases and deliveries, shipments, that kind of thing. Dealing with this type of unusual production, it’s a little easier to follow than methamphetamine or cocaine because it flies under the radar with all the equipment and powder and liquids that have to be shipped and mailed, it’s a lot easier for us to track that way so eventually, they’re going to get caught,” explains Kennamer.
Using the postal service, the dealer had a regular routine. He would drop off packages containing the illegal steroids to be shipped from the Longview facility.
The most common illegal source comes from smuggling steroids into the United States from other countries like Mexico, Europe, and in this case China.
With shipments coming from and going to foreign destinations monitored closely by the feds, why aren’t more people getting caught?
One reason – no prescription is required for ordering illicit or synthetic drugs online.
“It’s taking place right here in people’s backyards and they don’t know a thing about what’s going on,” says Kennamer.
Here’s what makes this so dangerous.
“We can’t guarantee what those chemicals are, and the people that shipped them to the United States don’t care. As long as people keep shooting this stuff in their arms and taking the pills, it’s deadly, it’s super dangerous,” explains Kennamer.
While illegal steroids don’t create the typical high, it can be highly addictive. Often times, the drug is made in unusual places, like storefront posing as legit businesses, creating a product for virtual customers.
“That’s the problem with ordering online, especially if you look in the purchases that are made on the dark web, kind of the underground internet, again you literally don’t know what your getting, you don’t know some of these chemicals that we seized today were from China,” says Kennamer.
Online sales dominate the business, creating a safe place for dealers and users.
“You don’t know some of these chemicals that we seized today were from China,” says Kennamer.
Instead of cash or credit cards, some do business with bitcoin, a digital currency, that flies under the radar of banks and regulators.
“Again this is taking a guy off the street. It’s not your typical drug dealer that you think of, but he is doing exactly that – he’s distributing illegal drugs all over the United States,” explains Kennamer.
While this one dealer is now behind bars, the most alarming part for investigators is that no one in the community reported him to authorities.
“Nobody knew what he was doing. Always had everything blocked up, always boarded up, never talked to anybody, so out of everybody around here it wasn’t that great of a surprise,” says one of the business neighbors.
It can happen anywhere, including here in East Texas.
KETK asked neighbors if they ever thought a drug business was happening in their own area, to which one said, “No, not here no.”
A statement that drives home the saying, “see something, say something.”
“The quantity of what we seized will determine what kind of sentence he’ll be facing. Obviously, the more drugs, the more time in the federal pen he’ll be facing, and also the type of drugs. Some of the stuff you saw in there today and some of the powder, that’s filler product, that’s not a controlled product, that’s not drugs, but it’s stuff that has to be analyzed and computed to determine how much he was actually manufacturing,” explains Kennamer.
Due to the involvement of other countries, law enforcement agents say this will be a long investigation. Part of an even longer battle to keep illegal steroids off the streets, out of the gyms, and away from anyone who would use them.