By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2009
LAKELAND, Fla., May 27 -- A massive drug bust in a small town in central Florida entangled the Washington Nationals and Capitals late Tuesday when a man found with $200,000 worth of steroids and other drugs in his home named those teams, and no others, when police inquired whether any professional athletes were among his clients.
But the sheriff handling the case in Polk County said detectives had no evidence other than the claims of the man, Richard Thomas, 35, who bragged while in detention that he had sold performance-enhancing drugs to players in a variety of pro sports without providing names, numbers of clients, time frames or validating documentation.
"I sent a supervisor in with a detective, and [Thomas] confirmed, 'Yes, I've sold steroids to professional football, professional baseball and professional hockey players," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd during an interview in his office. "When asked for specifics, he said the Washington Capitals and D.C. Nationals. At this point in the investigation, I have absolutely nothing to corroborate those statements."
Added Judd later: "Can I tell you whether he supplied one player or two players, or one team or two teams? I can't do that."
The statements, however, quickly sped around the nation, eliciting quick responses from sports leagues that have become accustomed to such disclosures during a decade in which several U.S. federal and state drug busts eventually revealed connections to professional sports. By Wednesday morning, Major League Baseball security officials had e-mailed and telephoned Judd requesting information and offering to assist in any way they could, Judd said.
The NHL, meantime, said it would conduct a prompt investigation. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement that, "even though there are no specifics . . . the National Hockey League takes all matters of this nature very seriously."
League and team officials also highlighted their recently tightened drug policies, which subject players in both leagues to random unannounced drug tests several times a year. Though several former Nationals players -- including José Guillén, now with the Kansas City Royals, who received a 15-game ban in 2008 -- were entangled in previous scandals involving drug distribution networks, no current player on either team is known to have failed a drug test.
"I don't have any particular concerns, because as you've seen in recent times, baseball has the most stringent testing for performance-enhancing drugs," Nationals President Stan Kasten said. "Players run afoul of the rules, they're caught, and they're disciplined. My reaction is limited to the things I hear authoritatively from MLB."
The drama began Tuesday afternoon, when police raided a modest, stone home with cream trim. Alerted to an expected shipment of steroids by federal officials, Polk County detectives executed a search warrant and arrived at the home in a gated community to find "massive quantities" of steroids and other drugs in vials, jars and syringes, according to Judd. Detectives also found two shotguns, several handguns and one automatic weapon that Thomas said he kept so he wouldn't "get ripped off," Judd said.
Richard and Sandra Thomas were arrested and booked into the Polk County jail on several counts of possession of illegal steroids, firearms and maintaining a dwelling for drug use.
After Thomas claimed to be the biggest steroid dealer in central Florida and stated that he obtained drugs from Iran, Pakistan, Slovakia, Russia, China, Turkey, Spain, Mexico and Germany, investigators asked him whether he had professional athlete clients. Judd said he told detectives to ask the question because he knew members of the media would seek that information.
"If [Thomas] was just wanting to pump himself up and enjoy his 15 minutes of fame locally, you would think he would have said the Detroit Tigers because they're here in Lakeland for spring training, or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or the ice hockey team," Judd said. "He didn't mention any of those. His statement was the Washington Capitals and D.C. Nationals."
Elaine Diaz, who lives next door to Thomas, said he and his wife were quiet and friendly and gave no indication they were running a business of any sort from their house.
"They were very quiet," Diaz said. "This is a very quiet neighborhood. I just never in my wildest dreams thought anything was going on."
The pair placed second in a mixed pairs bodybuilding event in Orlando in June 2001, and Richard Thomas trained regularly at two local gyms, a Gold's Gym where he was a member and a gym known as Debs Gym: House of Perfection in a hardscrabble neighborhood across town. Representatives of both establishments said Wednesday they did not know of Thomas's steroid dealings.
Thomas's mother told police her son had been involved in steroids for years after being introduced to them by his father.
Judd said detectives seized some documents and records from the Tuesday night bust but declined to comment on what the documents showed. He said the investigation would continue.
Staff writers Chico Harlan, Tarik El-Bashir and Barry Svrluga, and staff researcher Julie Tate, contributed to this report.