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."
Hommel says authorities shut down both the clinic and pharmacy, but BSO hasn't responded to my request for records on McElhaney's investigation. The sheriff's office, however, never publicized it, and it doesn't appear that anyone was arrested.
In fact, two men listed on Lifestyle Rejuvenation corporate records as principals now run a small operation in a strip mall on Sunrise Boulevard in Plantation called "Tropical Pharmacy." That name isn't on the business; instead the sign over the door says simply, "Wellness Center."
Attempts to reach the two men, Lancelot James and Claude White, were unsuccessful. A check of Florida corporate records shows that James has been president of numerous pharmacies and clinics. Lawyer David Ferguson, who represented PowerMedica, says he was never able to find James and believes he may not even exist.
One doctor who prescribed medication for Hommel at Lifestyle Rejuvenation was Dr. Nathan Moy, a podiatrist who also used to work at PowerMedica. While there's no indication Moy has been hit with any criminal charges regarding the clinic, he's had his scrapes with the law and regulators.
In 2007, Pembroke Pines police charged Moy with DUI and possession with intent to sell valium. Moy refused to comment for this article, but his attorney, Billy Ponds of Washington, D.C., told me Moy was sentenced to probation on the DUI charge and that the valium charge is open but he expects it to be dismissed.
The Florida Department of Health ruled in a 2006 case that has yet to be resolved that Moy violated medical records law and performed services outside the scope of the law. It's not clear if that case was related to PowerMedica.
Such clinics generally operate on the law's border. A veteran in the business, Kristian Mecoli, says that Lifestyle Rejuvenation sent fliers to all former patients who used PowerMedica. All of those deputies were cleared of wrongdoing because they were given prescriptions.
Mecoli knows the business. He worked as a vice president at PowerMedica and operated a clinic called Medical Arts Therapy with Moy, among other ventures.
"I've told police officers to their face that if they don't use them properly, it will alter their perceptions," says Mecoli, who says he had nothing to do with Lifestyle Rejuvenation. "I don't want to be some big, ugly, six-foot, 240 pounds like some of these cops. And I don't want to be pulled over by a cop like that. I don't want someone like that to snap on me."
Mecoli says that he's seen cops who, like Hommel, make a decent case for using the substance and others who are clearly abusing it. Mecoli says the problem is that shady doctors and pharmacists at times prescribe steroids for testosterone levels that aren't really low.
"I believe that police shouldn't be on steroids unless they really need it," he says. "The departments, if they really want to do something about it, need to have the department check the testosterone levels. You need a doctor who is tied to the department to do the testing."
Hommel says that the 16 deputies who recently came under investigation for steroids were tied to the Lifestyle Rejuvenation case. BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal won't confirm or deny that. In fact, BSO refuses to release the investigative report on the 2005 PowerMedica case in which the eight deputies were cleared.
The extent of the problem is impossible to decipher though, because of the secrecy. Sources say BSO sat on the latest steroids scandal until McElhaney reported the case to the State Attorney's Office to ensure action was taken on her investigation. McElhaney didn't return a call for comment.
"If any cops have a problem with these things, then they need to be stopped from using them," says Hommel. "That wasn't me, though. I'm not a psycho, and I didn't get gigantic."
Maybe so, but unfortunately the truth about cops and steroids is almost impossible to know — thanks to a shield of secrecy.
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.