FDA says Bodybuilding.com has illegally sold supplements with steroids
BY BILL ROBERTS
Investigators raided this warehouse as they searched for evidence that Bodybuilding.com had violated federal drug laws.
Thursday’s raid followed a two-year criminal investigation into the company and corporate officers, including founder Ryan DeLuca, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to search warrants filed in U.S. District Court.
The searches were conducted at Bodybuilding.com’s headquarters at 2026 S. Silverstone Way, Meridian, and its warehouse off Gowen Road in south Boise, after two warrants were signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale, said Wendy Olson, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boise.
DeLuca could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman said the company is cooperating fully in the investigation.
“We are not the manufacturers of the products in question and will continue to work with the FDA on this inquiry,” said Amanda Cheslock, the spokeswoman.
“We have no further comment at this time.”
An affidavit filed in U.S. District Court listed more than 60 products sold by the company that contained five controlled substances or designer steroids, including andro and madol, a designer steroid the FDA identified in a similar probe that prompted a July raid of American Cellular Labs in Pacifica, Calif.
Days after the raid at American Cellular Labs, the FDA issued a public health advisory, warning consumers to stop using body-building products touted as containing anabolic steroids or steroid-like substances, many of which are labeled as dietary supplements.
The agency said it had received reports that men between ages 22 and 55 who had used such products have suffered serious liver injury, stroke, kidney failure and pulmonary embolism (blockage of an artery in the lung).
Bodybuilding.com was founded about 10 years ago by DeLuca and his family.
By 2006, it was recognized as the world’s largest body-building Web site. The site is a store to buy products and a place to get fitness information.
The company caught the attention of Liberty Media, a conglomerate that owns the QVC cable home-shopping network, the Atlanta Braves, Ticketmaster and DirecTV. Liberty paid more than $100 million for a controlling stake in January 2008.
“Bodybuilding.com is a fast-growing leader in fitness nutrition e-commerce and the authentic voice of the body-building community,” said Michael Zeisser, Liberty Media’s senior vice president, at the time. “We are pleased to welcome entrepreneurs of the caliber of Ryan DeLuca and his team into the Liberty family.”
But the the FDA was already investigating Bodybuilding.com.
Between February 2008 and last August, Robert Blenkinsop, an FDA special agent based in Boise, made four purchases from the company, he said in an affidavit filed in support of the search warrant.
Of the 31 products he bought, 23 tested positive for one or more of five anabolic steroids: madol, tren, superdrol, androstenedione and turinabol, he said in the affidavit.
Blenkinsop also said there is probable cause that the products believed to contain the anabolic steroids are “falsely and misleadingly labeled as ‘dietary supplements.'”
The products purchased from Bodybuilding.com that contain the anabolic steroids are considered new drugs by federal authorities, which means they are not generally recognized by scientific experts as “safe and effective for use under conditions prescribed, recommended or suggested in the labeling,” Blenkinsop said.
He said he is not aware of any studies for the products purchased from Bodybuilding.com that contained any of the five steroids.
“Without such studies,” he said, “it is not possible that experts could generally recognize these products as safe and effective for their labeled intended uses.”
Blenkinsop also said there is reason to believe the drugs came from outside Idaho.
Blenkinsop cited a list of products for sale at Bodybuilding.com under the heading “Hardcore!”
He said he believes many of those products are “neither safe nor legal” and that by marketing them the company is “misleading, defrauding and endangering its customers.”
This raid comes days before a hearing scheduled in the Senate to talk about the multibillion-dollar supplement industry.
Critics say it is grossly underregulated.
Defenders say the current FDA regulations are acceptable and that people selling steroids aren’t really part of the supplement industry.