Patriots star Rodney Harrison was so brazen - or naive - about buying human growth hormone through an allegedly corrupt system on the Internet that he made no effort to disguise his name or home address, according to law enforcement authorities.
Harrison, who voluntarily met last week at Gillette Stadium with investigators for the Albany County (N.Y) District Attorney's office, acknowledged purchasing human growth hormone "more than once" online last year with an illegal prescription provided by a doctor associated with a Florida wellness clinic, prosecutors said.
"I was quite impressed with Mr. Harrison's response when he was confronted with the issue," said Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares in a telephone interview. "I commend him for immediately taking responsibility and being completely cooperative and forthright."
Harrison, 34, bought the HGH from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center with a bogus prescription allegedly signed by a heart surgeon, Robert G. Carlson, who never examined him, according to Chris Baynes, an Albany County assistant district attorney. The law requires doctors to see patients before they write prescriptions.
Carlson and one of the clinic's owners have pleaded guilty in the case, which is part of "Operation Which Doctor," a nationwide crackdown by Soares on illegal Internet drug sales.
Harrison, a 14-year veteran safety and former Pro Bowler, has been suspended four games by the NFL for violating its policy on banned substances, but he is not expected to face criminal charges even though it is illegal to purchase medication with a bogus prescription.
Soares indicated the primary target of the investigation is a Florida-based clearinghouse, Signature Pharmacy, which manufactured many of the drugs that clinics like Palm Beach Rejuvenation sold over the Internet. Authorities allege Signature Pharmacy also sold drugs illegally online.
"This case has never been about the athletes," Soares said. "It has been about trying to eliminate the availability of performance-enhancing substances and other drugs over the Internet."
Soares acknowledged, however, that in the highly competitive world of professional sports, the proliferation of Internet sites distributing performance-enhancing drugs "is a dangerous thing and is sending a very dangerous message."
It was only a matter of time before Harrison was implicated in the crackdown after investigators staged simultaneous raids last Feb. 27 on the offices of Signature Pharmacy and the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center. The names of Harrison and Wade Wilson, the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback coach, appeared in records seized at the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, Baynes said.
Wilson, 48, a former NFL quarterback, was suspended five games by the league and fined $100,000. Harrison did not receive a financial penalty other than the salary he will forfeit.
Like many others who obtained HGH, anabolic steroids, and other substances from the Palm Beach clinic, Harrison placed orders online, setting in motion the allegedly corrupt practice in which Carlson ostensibly provided the clinic with signed prescriptions for Harrison without ever seeing the Patriots safety.
Baynes said Harrison told investigators who met with him in Foxborough a story consistent with the prepared statement he delivered Friday to reporters in acknowledging his suspension. Harrison said he used HGH to help heal faster from his football injuries. He missed much of last season with shoulder and knee injuries.
While HGH is marketed under the guise of an anti-aging product, prosecutors have stated that the Food and Drug Administration has approved its use with a legal prescription only for a small number of conditions, including patients with growth hormone deficiency and wasting disease associated with AIDS.
Authorities allege that numerous clinics associated with Signature Pharmacy contracted with physicians like Carlson to sign prescriptions for orders they received online without examining the customers.
An undercover investigator posing as a doctor contracted with two clinics - Oasis Longevity and Rejuvenation Institute of Delray Beach, Fla., and Cellular Nucleonic Advantage of Houston - to write prescriptions for online customers for a monthly fee and commission for each prescription, Baynes said. The clinics then unwittingly faxed prescription orders to the Albany District Attorney's office, believing it was the doctor's office, Baynes said.
Baynes said authorities built their case against the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center by making "controlled buys" over the Internet. He said investigators were able to buy substances without legally obtaining prescriptions.
Carlson, 50, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty Aug. 21 to one felony count of insurance fraud for filing a bogus prescription. He became the ninth person - and third doctor - to plead guilty in the crackdown and agree to appear as witnesses.
Carlson's brother-in-law, Joseph Raich, 44, of Jupiter, Fla., a co-owner of the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, pleaded guilty in July to one felony count in the case.
Baynes said investigators did not inform the NFL about Harrison's and Wilson's involvement until they decided to interview them last week to help build their case against the Palm Beach clinic and Signature Pharmacy.
"We talked to them as witnesses," Baynes said of Harrison and Wilson. "It made sense to reach out to them and see how the system worked."
Baynes said Harrison did not implicate any other NFL players in the scandal.
Asked his reaction to a player of Harrison's stature becoming ensnared in the case, Baynes said he was "not shocked at all."
"We expected there would be athletes involved," he said. "Athletes started it. Ten to 20 years ago, corporate executive types were not taking steroids and HGH, but athletes were."
Baynes said investigators have yet to provide Major League Baseball with the names of players implicated in the case. Heather Orth, a spokeswoman for Soares, said a
Albany prosecutors did provide a list of names to
Soares, while praising Harrison for accepting responsibility and speaking forthrightly to prosecutors about his involvement in the scandal, also commended the Patriots and the NFL for cooperating with the investigation. In addition to helping clear the way for prosecutors to interview Harrison in Foxborough, Soares indicated, the Patriots protected the integrity of the investigation by not disclosing information to Harrison that could have enabled him to alter his story.
"We've had experience with confronting people with this kind of information and they are not forthcoming and cooperative," Soares said. "Any time they are willing to sit down at the table and be honest and forthright, you have to admire that."
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.