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In Canton yesterday, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said the case is a ‘‘very rare opportunity to see just how . . . illegal Internet steroid distribution businesses work.’’
In Canton yesterday, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said the case is a ‘‘very rare opportunity to see just how . . . illegal Internet steroid distribution businesses work.’’ (Essdras M. Suarez/ Globe Staff)

Arrest is called first in Web steroids ring

DA says drugs sold to bodybuilders

CANTON -- In the kitchen of his nondescript Canton apartment, Bruce Kneller packaged tens of thousands of illegal steroid pills he then shipped to Internet customers around the country, Norfolk County prosecutors said yesterday.

Federal and local authorities say they seized 100,000 suspected steroid tablets and 10 firearms from Kneller's home after his arrest on Friday -- the first raid in a two-year investigation into what authorities say is a nationwide steroid manufacturing and distributing ring that advertised discreetly on the Internet.

Yesterday, Kneller, 37, stood quietly in a Stoughton District courtroom in a suit and black overcoat as a plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf to charges including drug possession with intent to distribute and 10 counts of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Kneller, described by authorities as a former registered nurse and a self-employed import-export businessman, is accused of distributing the drugs to consumers who ordered them via e-mail and sent cash payments wrapped in aluminum foil to addresses in California. Authorities said the ring has made hundreds of thousands of dollars by marketing the drugs in gyms and on legitimate websites for bodybuilders.

To build their case, federal authorities said, they ordered illegal steroids over the Internet from e-mail addresses linked to Kneller. Authorities said they are continuing to investigate.

Officials said they do not know of any well-known athletes among customers. Two customers who were listed in court documents declined to talk about Kneller or his company.

''We do think there is a tremendous public safety issue attached to this," Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating said yesterday. ''This case will provide, I think, a very rare opportunity to see just how these kinds of illegal Internet steroid distribution businesses work."

Illegal steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs have made international headlines in big-time sports with baseball stars, including slugger Mark McGwire, testifying before Congress last year. Professional sports leagues have since instituted stricter drug testing policies. The investigation that led to Kneller's arrest also involves US postal inspectors, the federal Food and Drug Administration, and the Canton police.

Kneller's lawyer denied the allegations, calling his client a family man with solid roots in the Canton area.

''He's born and raised here," said lawyer Edward Sharkansky. ''He's got family here. This is his home."

Kneller's parents and his wife, June, sat in the courtroom yesterday during the arraignment. They declined to speak to reporters afterward. In the basement of the courthouse, near the detention room, Kneller's mother comforted her daughter-in-law, her head against hers, one arm draped around her shoulder.

Authorities said Kneller had not registered the weapons in Massachusetts. Keating said he does not believe the guns are connected to the alleged drug operation. Kneller is also charged with unlawful possession of ammunition, and drug possession near a school.

Asked why thousands of suspected steroid pills were found in his client's home, Sharkansky said the answer would be fleshed out during trial.

''I don't have an explanation," he said.

Kneller is accused of working for a drug operation that advertised itself as Red Star Laboratories, which customers could find by searching on the Internet.

Customers were directed to an e-mail address that offered them price lists and products, typically $75 for a bottle of pills. To order, they used a second address. They were instructed to send money to one of six addresses in the San Diego area.

Prosecutors said Kneller received steroid pills, including some growth hormones designed for farm animals, from as far away as China and possibly as close as New Jersey. He then repackaged the pills that included Anadrol, Polysteron, and Masteron; wrapped them in labels that advertised them as Red Star Laboratories products; and sent them to customers by mail, prosecutors said. They said it is possible that Kneller mixed compounds to make some of the steroid pills.

Kneller, who was sometimes described as a chemist in online publications, has been a frequent, opinionated contributor to bodybuilding websites, including Testosterone Nation and MuscleMag International, often discussing in technical detail the pros and cons of various steroids and diet supplements. He wrote colorfully, sometimes with abundant expletives, describing his passion for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, high-performance cars, bull mastiffs, and sex.

But at Blue Hills Village, the quiet apartment complex on Randolph Street in Canton where Kneller lives, neighbors said he was a friendly, polite man who never bothered anyone and lived peacefully with his wife. Several were shocked to learn of the allegations against Kneller.

''My jaw just kind of dropped," said Lisa Miller, 34, who lives below Kneller's second floor apartment. ''It's scary. . . . I don't think it's really hit me yet."

Kneller, who is not a bodybuilder but wrote once about his struggle to lose 25 pounds quickly, often used the pen name ''Brock Strasser" in online magazines. Those who know him from the world of bodybuilding supplements describe him as an intelligent writer who liked to provoke controversy.

In a 1998 column for Testosterone Nation, the credit line described him as holding a degree in nursing and working at a biopharmaceutical company in Cambridge. The article said he had researched diet supplements for more than 10 years and worked in drug development for more than four years.

Stephen Schmitz of Bedford met Kneller years ago when both worked at a biotech company. Yesterday, he said he was surprised to hear about the charges.

''I don't believe that the charges are true," he said. ''Bruce is a very bright guy."

In October, the Washington Post paid a researcher to test diet supplements, including two made by Applied Lifescience Research Industries Inc., a Las Vegas company linked to another supplement company, Gaspari Nutrition in Neptune, N.J., for which Kneller was a consultant. After the Post reported that the researcher found steroids in the ALRI supplements, Kneller and an ALRI official responded in an open letter to the Post.

''None of the compounds we have developed and currently market are in current violation of any controlled substance act at either the federal or state level," they wrote.

The company, however, stopped making the supplements.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

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