By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 1, 2007
A law enforcement investigation of a Florida-based steroid distribution ring has led to the suspension of 10 World Wrestling Entertainment performers and, according to prosecutors, has uncovered links to Major League Baseball and National Football League players.
The WWE, known for its "Smackdown" and "Raw" TV programs, declined to name the wrestlers it suspended Thursday night for violating its "wellness policy," a drug-testing and health program the company created last year -- three months after WWE star Eddie Guerrero, 38, died in November 2005. But media accounts identified several WWE stars among the suspended, including Randy Orton and Guerrero's nephew, Chavo Guerrero.
Pro wrestling has been plagued by scores of premature deaths over the past decade; many critics of wrestling, including current and retired performers, have blamed a volatile mix of orchestrated violence, incessant performance demands and widespread steroid and drug abuse. The issue received extensive media attention this summer after WWE wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and 7-year-old son, and then committed suicide, according to police.
WWE suspended the wrestlers after prosecutors in Albany County, N.Y., told the Stamford, Conn.-based firm that they had found the names of 14 wrestlers on client lists of clinics with links to a Florida drug distribution company. New York and Florida authorities raided the Orlando-based company, Signature Pharmacy, in February.
Prosecutors say that Signature is at the center of an Internet prescription-drug distribution operation that sold steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs through clinics that used fraudulently written prescriptions, said Heather Orth, a spokeswoman for Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares. The district attorney, who has been investigating the Florida operation for the past two years, has obtained 24 indictments and nine guilty pleas from doctors, employees and others.
In addition to the wrestlers, Signature's client lists included "a couple dozen" names of professional baseball and football players, said Orth, who added that she did not know their identities. She said Soares's office turned those names over to representatives of Major League Baseball and the NFL in March and has heard nothing since. "What they do about it is up to them," she said of the two leagues. "It's not within our jurisdiction."
Officials of MLB and the NFL could not be reached for comment.
According to media reports, three of the 14 wrestlers who allegedly had been Signature clients since 2003 are dead: Guerrero, Benoit and former WWE wrestler Brian "Crush" Adams, who died Aug. 13. A fourth wrestler has left the WWE. The 10 others named have been suspended for 30 to 60 days for violating the WWE's anti-drug policy, which prohibits wrestlers from obtaining drugs over the Internet or from a doctor who is not their primary physician.
"We basically asked [Albany investigators] to give us proof of their allegations," said Kevin Hennessy, a WWE spokesman. "We independently confirmed" the allegations, and imposed the suspensions.
The suspensions indicate that the WWE's drug-testing and self-policing of its performers has failed, said Dave Meltzer, founder and editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter. "The policy is completely ineffective," he said.
Meltzer blamed the wrestlers and WWE's chairman, Vince McMahon, a bodybuilder himself whom Meltzer said "has educated the public that a wrestler is supposed to look a certain way -- larger than life."
The issue of drugs and pro wrestling has caught the attention of federal lawmakers. In the wake of Benoit's death, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.), and the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection (chaired by Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill.) asked the WWE for information about its drug policies. In early 2005, the House Oversight Committee conducted hearings on steroids in baseball that featured testimony from such former and current stars as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas.
Neither panel has scheduled further action, according to representatives for Waxman and Rush.