Underground steroids-to-cops pipeline comes into focus

Former Plantation police officer Martin Hommel says there are cops who abuse steroids, but he insists he wasn't one of them.

The 54-year-old Hommel readily admits that, while working as a cop in 2007, he injected anabolic steroids, specifically a synthetic form of testosterone called nandrolone. But he says he was only trying to replace muscle tissue lost during years of martial arts training.

Hommel is still angry that he was singled out when it's obvious that there are cops — specifically some with the Broward County Sheriff's Office — who are juicing hard for no medical reason. "They are huge, and it's pretty obvious there's a problem," Hommel says of the deputies. "I got a little puffy here and there, but I didn't look like a bodybuilder. I did nothing illegal."

Hommel, who is no longer using steroids, wants to clear his name after an internal investigation in Plantation initially found that he had violated the department's rules regarding controlled substances. Police Chief Larry Massey ultimately exonerated both him and another officer, Joseph Alu. Hommel says the investigation made his life hell for several months.

The former officer, who is now working as a private investigator, makes a strong argument, and his willingness to talk about his example reflects well on him. But his story reveals a lot more than his guilt or innocence — it exposes the steroids underworld of South Florida and provides crucial background information regarding an ongoing scandal at the Broward Sheriff's Office involving 16 deputies accused of steroid use.

Steroid abuse by police officers is obviously an ongoing problem in Broward County, but information is almost impossible to come by. Both Plantation and BSO are hiding behind medical privacy laws to keep the identities of steroid-using cops secret. And they are hiding from public view investigations that exonerated officers who obtained steroids from fly-by-night, largely unregulated clinics that have since been shut down.

Back in 2005, BSO shut down a fraudulent clinic in Deerfield Beach called PowerMedica, which provided steroids to eight deputies. Some of the same men who were behind the PowerMedica scandal simply opened up new clinics that, again, wooed cops to become customers.

Hommel says he obtained his steroids at one of the new clinics, a place called the Lifestyle Rejuvenation Center, which had both a storefront in Coral Springs and a related pharmacy in Pembroke Pines. He learned about the center from a flier that landed in his mailbox in 2006 or 2007. He says Alu — who is a noted bodybuilder — received a flier at about the same time.

Hommel says he had taken steroids prescribed by his family doctor back in 1999 and that he was feeling aches from tissue deterioration caused by his advancing age and training. "You have to understand that I married late and have two young children who I want to be there for," he says. "I don't want to attract women or become huge. I just want a long and healthy lifestyle. I'm not some egocentric wiseguy."

The flier included a list of extremely cheap steroids. A month's worth of testosterone or nandrolone ran about $30 at Lifestyle Rejuvenation, a third of what he'd pay through medical insurance.

He and Alu went to the clinic together, and doctors prescribed both men steroids based on "low testosterone levels." The results were obvious.

"I gained a little weight," he says. "I would see Joe and tell him he was putting some on, and he would say, 'Yeah, this is helping me do that.' I can't speak for Joe, but I was only taking it for my health."

Hommel says that, despite the low prices and easy access, he didn't think anything was suspect about the center. He certainly didn't know that Lifestyle Rejuvenation was under investigation by a BSO detective named Lisa McElhaney, the agency's drug diversion officer. And he says he only learned later that numerous BSO deputies were also utilizing the center for steroids.

McElhaney captured surveillance photos of Alu and Hommel at the clinic and reported them to supervisors at the Plantation department, Hommel says. Both officers were tested for steroids and came up positive, which triggered the internal affairs investigation.

"I was caught up in a dragnet," says Hommel. "And I didn't do anything wrong."

Internal Affairs, however, didn't agree. Initially, the department found that Hommel and Alu violated department rules regarding controlled substances because there was no medical necessity for either man to take steroids.

Then Chief Massey stepped in and exonerated both officers in December 2007.

On top of his debatable action, Massey has violated the state's open records laws by hiding basic facts of the case.

While BSO and Plantation are all but mute on the issue, Hommel says he learned during the course of the investigation that Lifestyle Rejuvenation was allegedly part of a "nationwide conspiracy to distribute testosterone." He said he was told by lawyers involved in his case that the center was producing the steroids with "precursor substances" it had improperly received from China.

"I guess that's why it was so cheap," Hommel says. "When I heard that, I ran straight to my doctor to see if I was okay. I mean, I thought the stuff might have been poison. Thankfully I checked out fine."

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