FDA Office of Criminal Investigation under heavy criticism

FDA Office of Criminal Investigation under heavy criticism
by Anthony Roberts

If this is the first time you’ve heard of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation, then you’re not very up to date in the war on steroids. These guys have become the #1 threat to steroid users since the days of Operation TKO and Operation Gear Grinder, and they were the driving force behind Operation Raw Deal.

You may have heard of a guy called “Jeff Novitzky” …the guy who busted BALCO…well he works for FDA-OCI now, and is the guy currently investigating Lance Armstrong (*don’t worry… unless you’re hitting 40-50 homeruns per year, and can get his name in the paper, he probably won’t bother with you). FDA-OCI is also the agency who raided Bodybuilding.com, and the ones who took down several research chem sites.

While the DEA can go after bad guys who are selling tons of cocaine and earning millions per day, those crimes don’t fall under the auspices of the FDA. Big Pharmaceutical companies and their executives can drag out court cases for years and hire the best lawyers in the world for as long as it takes, which makes them a very unappealing target for federal prosecutors. What’s left? Steroids. Nutritional supplements. Research chemicals.

FDA-OCI has gone after these cases more viciously than any other agency, and their agents are no joke. According to the FDA homepage, OCI Special Agents:

* come to FDA mostly from other federal law enforcement agencies, such as the U.S. Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Postal Inspection Service, and Drug Enforcement Administration
* bring years of prior federal criminal investigative experience using traditional law enforcement methods, professional contacts, and investigative techniques
* investigate FDA-related crimes typically involving counterfeit, unapproved or illegally diverted drugs, product tampering and substitution, fraudulent health treatments, and allegations of fraud in new drug applications and clinical trials
* have all the legal powers and capabilities of a well-equipped federal law enforcement organization
* have federal statutory authority to obtain and execute arrest and search warrants, carry firearms, and gather evidence to enforce United States criminal law
* obtain specialized training as polygraph examiners, computer forensics examiners, firearms instructors, and technical surveillance specialists (if selected to do so)

The architect of FDA-OCI was Terry Vermillion, a former Secret Service agent who was credited with constructing the agency from the ground up. In September (2010), an anonymous whistleblower made some serious allegations of misconduct, followed by Vermillion’s resignation a couple of months later (in my eyes, this confirms the allegations). In 2006 he earned more money than we pay a Supreme Court Justice or a member of Congress.

The whistleblower alleged, among other things, that the head of FDA-OCI:

1. Relocated his domicile to the Hampton, VA, area and now directs the work of OCI predominantly over the phone.
2. Used OCI technical support staff and his information technology staff to do personal work for him.
3. Authorized the payment for government contracting training at George Washington University for a fellow OCI employee characterized as his “Office Mistress.” The whistleblower then goes on to state that Vermillion also directed that she be promoted to the level of GS-14 against the advice of other senior OCI officials in charge of Administration, who advised him that she did not have enough responsibilities at her current GS-13 level position.
4. Directed that reports prepared by OCI’s Office of Internal Affairs be changed to sanitize them of derogatory information about his fellow US Secret Service retirees now working at FDA/OCI.
5. Routinely had OCI training session and conferences held in the Dallas, TX area so that he could visit family (son and grandchildren).

It is a little known fact in the steroid underground that FDA-OCI has been raked over the coals by Republicans on Capitol Hill, beginning in 2008, right after Operation Raw Deal, where it was revealed that while the agency received a 71% budget increase, and 50% more investigators between 2000 and 2005, yet arrests and convictions fell about 20%.

Top Republicans on the House Commerce Committee and its oversight panel noted: “Doing the math, this means that the cost per conviction has more than doubled” (from $51,000 to $130,000 – which is actually closer to triple). This means, the average steroid user who was busted in ORD, came with a $130,000 pricetag to the taxpayer; even if we factor in the property and assets seized in those busts, we find that this agency is costing tens of millions of dollars to stage major operations. And Republicans aren’t too happy about it, especially in this economy.

Taxpayers aren’t too happy about it either, especially since finding out that Novitzky’s case against Barry Bonds came with a pricetag of tens of millions of dollars. In fact, it’s become a common refrain in the media that money spent going after baseball players, is money wasted.

Congressman Joe Barton of the 6th District of Texas, says that OCI spends too much time on high-profile cases with agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and wants to audit the entire department: “Our staff wonders how many of the cases that OCI works are truly FDA-related cases,” he said in a statement. “We’re going to find out.”

Although nothing has been confirmed, Barton was quoted as saying he would consider ending the investigation office’s separate status, reducing the number of agents and replacing them with FDA-trained inspectors.

The only way to justify these kinds of figures, is to make more arrests, thereby driving arrest/conviction rates up, and average costs down. Hence, an increase in arrests and major operations seems likely, or OCI may become a thing of the past.

Think about it….what would you do if your job was on the line? This situation is no different, and I’m guessing OCI is due for some major arrests soon.