COLUMBUS — A steroid ring uncovered in Ohio used drugs imported from China and processed at a secret lab in Tennessee to peddle drugs to high school athletes and other customers with a business model that implemented techniques such as bonuses and rebates, authorities said Tuesday.
A grand jury north of Cincinnati in Warren County indicted 32 people in the operation on charges that include engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, trafficking drugs and drug possession, according to police and prosecutors. Those charged include a bank manager, a financial planner, a delivery truck driver, a professional wrestler, a health club manager and a stay-at-home mom, and most have turned themselves in and are being held in the county jail, said Prosecutor David Fornshell.
Authorities have seized more than $600,000 in steroids, about $300,000 in cash and vehicles, and a number of assault rifles and other firearms, some used for security at the lab and others that appear to be collected.
James Deir, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Cincinnati, called the investigation “unique” and one that led to the dismantling of a drug operation selling “poison” to high school students.
“It’s pretty amazing the amount of firearms and what this organization was doing, and that is peddling this poison throughout the country,” he said.
Warren County Drug Task Force Commander John Burke said the indictments stem from an undercover operation at a local YMCA that started after they received two unrelated tips about two years ago.
The investigation led to a receptionist at a dental office suspected of receiving the drugs from three people in Tennessee and mailing them to various locations in the country. Fornshell said the receptionist, Ronald Herbort, 45, of Amelia, also provided drugs to Matt Geraci, 37, of Cincinnati, who ran a drug-dealing business that had sales meetings, set targets for dealers and offered bonuses and other types of awards and incentives for high sales.
Geraci also had set up a drug transfer location, using a bank of 18 lockers at an office park, where customers would retrieve drugs from an assigned locker and leave payments behind, investigators said. They said he and the 18 people using the lockers admitted to trafficking steroids in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
Of the remaining people indicted, police are not disclosing the names of three, who they say are helping in the continued investigation. Of the rest, all are from six counties in Ohio, except for one man who is from Kentucky. Authorities said four have resolved their cases, although details were not immediately available, and they said one has died of due to a heart attack attributed to steroid abuse.
While the investigation focused on dealers, Fornshell said authorities were confident high school athletes were among the users of the drugs. Burke said no particular students or schools have been identified.
“We typically think of drug abuse being done with respect to street drugs, but this demonstrates that even kids that we as a society would view as good kids can get caught up in the dangers of drug abuse,” Fornshell said.
He said the Tennessee trio, Jason Sherrill, 30, and Stephanie Sherrill, 26, both of Tullahoma, and Kenneth Freeman, 43, of Manchester, purchased drugs in powder form from China and mixed it into an injectable form to sell. Burke said their lab had moved from a home to a trailer about two or three weeks before it was raided by police and that agents raided multiple locations in Coffee and Franklin counties, about midway between Nashville and Chattanooga.
Messages seeking comment for attorneys representing Herbort and the Sherrills were not immediately returned after business hours Tuesday. No attorneys were listed in court files for Freeman or Geraci.