Musclebear, a popular internet steroid source from the Ukraine for over a decade, is currently either in a Cyprus jail awaiting extradition or on a plane to the United States. He faces various charges related to his distribution of anabolic steroids within the United States.
Musclebear, also known as Oleksandr “Alex” Skochyk, and his brother Yvgeniy “Eugene” Suray masterminded a multi-million dollar steroid distribution ring that involved 8 family members in the Ukraine, two individuals serving as domestic remailers in the U.S. and at least one individual responsible for collecting money orders and payments in the U.S.
Skochyk was the self-described “boss” of the Musclebear steroid organization who was responsible for all payment and supply issues while Suray was responsible for day-to-day operations and customer service issues.
The United States Intensifies Efforts to Apprehend International Steroid Sources
The arrests and indictments of Skochyk and Suray reflect the increasing efforts by the U.S. Government at disrupting the international trade of anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. International sources who help facilitate the distribution of raw steroid powders to U.S.-based underground labs (UGLs) may be specifically targeted. Major steroid suppliers outside the United States, particularly in Eastern Europe and Asia, have largely been considered beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement.
This has not deterred the federal government in its increasingly international war on steroids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI) appears to be spending additional resources and enlisting the assistance of international law enforcement to apprehend international steroid suppliers.
The probability that the U.S. Government will succeed at catching most international steroid sources remains low but, as the Musclebear case shows, with a little luck and some surprisingly poor judgment by the steroid dealers involved, international steroid distributors are not untouchable.
Chronological Series of Events Leading to the Apprehension of Musclebear
A chronological anatomy of the Musclebear steroid bust reveals some of the tactics used by the government to catch international sources. However, more importantly, the Musclebear bust reveals how easy it is for the government to learn the details behind the operations of domestic remailing services utilized by international steroid sources.
One Snitch, Two Snitches, Three Snitches, Four
August 2008: Confidential Source (CS-1) told Special Agent Sean Grillo of the United States Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI) that Paul Matthews was operating an underground lab (UGL) used to manufacture anabolic steroids.
September 2008 to December 2008: CS-1 and an additional Confidential Source (CS-2) arranged undercover steroid purchases from a member of of Matthews’ organization named Michael Ruben in September, October and December of 2008.
Ruben was subsequently interviewed and cooperated with law enforcement. He admitted that he purchased anabolic steroids from Matthews and resold them to his customers.
Steroid Powders Shipped via China Express
January 2009: United States Customs and Border Patrol agents seized two parcels containing a total of almost 300 grams of steroid powders (testosterone cypionate, testosterone enanthate and testosterone phenylpropionate). The steroid powder arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) via China Eastern Airlines and was shipped using China Express shipping services
February 10, 2009: Special Agent Grillo obtained a search warrant for Matthews’ residence and seized components of an underground steroid lab that included steroid powders, finished steroid vials and non-controlled prescription drugs.
Musclebear Sold EuroChem Brand Steroids and Steroid Powders
February 11, 2009: Matthews was interviewed and agreed to cooperate with federal agents. He told law enforcement that Musclebear was his current source for raw steroid powders. Matthews told the feds that he paid Musclebear via Moneygram; Musclebear apparently had the powder drop-shipped directly from his Chinese raw material supplier.
Matthews also provided Special Agent Grillo with Musclebear’s email address and his website URL where Musclebear sold anabolic steroids to his internet customers.
Musclebear primarily sold EuroChem brand anabolic steroids including EnanJect (testosterone enanthate), CypioJect (testosterone cypionate), DecaJect (nandrolone decanoate), BoldoJect (boldenone undecylenate), PrimoJect (primobolan enanthate), TrenaJect (trenbolone acetate), StanoJect (stanozolol), EC-Tropin (human growth hormone), EC-HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).
Matthews also told Special Agent Grillo that Clayton Moore aka Cliff Morton was his source for steroid pills.
March 4, 2009: Special Agent Grillo executed a search warrant for Moore’s residence in Massachusetts and seized the components of an underground lab (UGL) used to manufacture anabolic steroids.
Moore was interviewed and agreed to cooperate with federal agents. He told investigators that his steroid powder supplier was Musclebear.
Emails Tell Investigators Everything They Need to Know About Steroid Dealers, Remailers and Customers
March 25, 2009: Special Agent Grillo obtained a search warrant to access all emails present in Musclebear’s Operamail email account.
A review of the account uncovered numerous emails between Musclebear and his clients. The emails itemized the purchase of illegal anabolic steroids, human growth hormone (hGH) and ancillary drugs by individual users around the country. The emails also provided government investigators with valuable correspondences between Musclebear and his domestic remailers in the United States.
Musclebear’s business between January 2009 and April 2009 included 450 customers making 630 transactions totaling more than $450,000 primarily via Western Union to the Ukraine.
Musclebear’s steroid suppliers were paid $317,000 for bulk quantities of steroids between January 2009 and May 2009 in approximately 70+ Western Union transactions.
Musclebear’s two U.S.-based domestic remailers were identified in March 2009 yet they were not officially busted until March 17, 2010. March 17th represented the same day that Musclebear was taken into custody in Cyprus.
The Musclebear remailers were identified as Daniel Jacobson of Rainier, Oregon and Josh Paul of Amarillo, Texas.
Undercover Purchases Allow Feds to Follow the Money… and the Steroids
May 18, 2009: Undercover purchase #1: Special Agent Grillo pretended to be Bill Broth of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when placing an order with Musclebear using the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
His first undercover purchase was for 45 tablets of clenbuterol, 12 ampoules of testosterone enanthate, 4 vials of EC-Tropin 10 IU (human growth hormone) and 3 vials of EC-HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).
Payment of $462 was sent to Kiev, Ukraine via Western Union.
The order was received from Musclebear’s domestic remailer in Amarillo, Texas.
Bogus hGH from EuroChem?
September 2, 2009: The Eurochem EC-Tropin 10-IU (Human Growth Hormone) sold by Musclebear was determined to be bogus after laboratory analysis revealed the absence of hGH.
Payment of $370 was made by credit card presumably for the book “Shedding the Light on Genetically Modified Food” on a website URL provided by Musclebear.
The order was received from Musclebear’s domestic remailer in Amarillo, Texas.
September 22, 2009: Undercover purchase #3: Special Agent Sean Grillo pretending to be Sean Flair of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania ordered 200 methanabol (methandrostenolone), 50 oxythol (oxymetholone) and 60 tamoxifel (tamoxifen citrate) using the email address email@example.com.
Payment of $350 was made by money order mailed via USPS to (Ronald) Joe Sales in Ottumwa, Iowa.
The order was received from Musclebear’s domestic remailer in Seattle, Washington.
How the Government Tricked Musclebear with an Elaborate Ruse
The FDA-OCI, having established the details of Musclebear’s domestic remailing operation and money laundering, next created a ruse that would ultimately lead to the apprehension of Musclebear and his associate.
September 28, 2009: Special Agent Sean Grillo, acting as Bill Broth, told Musclebear that his brother Sean Broth was a credit card processor who could help him set up a merchant services account for his steroid ecommerce website musclebear-s.com. His fee for setting up this service on behalf of Musclebear was $3000.
Bill Broth told Musclebear to contact Sean Broth at firstname.lastname@example.org
This was the pretense that the government used to extract significant financial and personal information from Musclebear.
Musclebear’s Poor Judgment Quickly Leads to His Downfall
October 2009 and December 2009: The U.S. Government obtained significant information from an extensive series of email correspondences between Musclebear and Special Agent Sean Grillo acting as Sean Broth. Musclebear voluntarily provided the following information to federal agents:
- His internet steroid business has been operating for 15 years;
- His real name is Oleksandr “Alex” Skochyk;
- He was the “boss” who handled all payment and supply issues;
- His brother Yvgeniy “Eugene” Suray handled the day-to-day operations, customer service issues and information technology (IT) related issues;
- At least eight relatives of Musclebear worked in the close-knit family-run steroid business;
- The name of Skochyk’s cousin Sergii Petrunenko was used to open all financial and corporate accounts associated with the Musclebear steroid organization;
- He maintained an offshore shell company named Jitsuri Company registered in Belize City under Petrunenko’s name;
- He maintained a bank account in Cyprus under Petrunenko’s name used for credit card processing;
- He maintained a bank account in Lithuania under Petrunenko’s name used for paying his steroid suppliers in China;
- He paid his Chinese steroid suppliers $20,000 to $60,000 per month into their bank accounts in Macau and Austria;
- He emailed a scan of his Ukrainian passport bearing the name of Oleksandr Skochyk;
- He emailed a scan of his cousin’s Ukrainian passport bearing the name of Sergeii Petrunenko;
- He revealed $100,000 to $200,000 monthly turnover via Western Union;
- He revealed $20,000 monthly turnover from credit card processing;
- His (unsatisfactory) credit card payment processor was CTOPay in Hong Kong, China at the time;
- He had individuals (working) at the Western Union store in Kiev, Ukraine that pick up the cash for him for a 2.5% fee; and
- The individuals (working) at the Western Union store also provided him with a list of 200 names to use for payment.
The Feds Set a Trap for Musclebear
December 2009: Special Agent Sean Grillo acting as Sean Broth requested an in-person meeting to collect the $3000 fee associated with setting up a merchant account for Musclebear-s.com.
Musclebear agreed but insisted that his brother Yvgeniy Suray be in attendance in order to assist with translation and technical issues related to the set up of of the merchant account on Musclebear’s website.
December 2009: A meeting was originally scheduled in Vienna, Austria on January 7, 2010. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Attache in Vienna, in cooperation with Austrian law enforcement officials, reported that Skochyk and Suray reserved a room at the Intercontinental Hotel Vienna for January 6-9, 2010 via the Austrian travel agency ALSA which has a branch in Kiev, Ukraine.
January 2010: The meeting was postponed and rescheduled for March 17, 2010 in Cyprus.
March 17, 2010: Special Agent Grillo acting as Sean Broth met with Musclebear and his brother at the Hilton Park Hotel in Nocisia, Cyprus.
After the meeting, Skochyk and Suray were “provisionally arrested” in Larnaca, Cyprus.
United States Indicts Musclebear and Requests Extradition
April 2010: Skochyk and Suray were indicted by a Pittsburgh-based grand jury. The United States government formally requested the extradition of Skochyk and Suray. The pair were detained in Cyprus jail pending extradition hearings.
Prosecutions of Co-Defendants in Musclebear Case
April 2011: Ronald J. Sales was indicted for his role in the Musclebear steroid distribution conspiracy.
May 2011: Paul G. Matthews was indicted for his role in the Musclebear steroid distribution conspiracy.
May 2011: Paul Matthews and Ronald J. Sales pleaded guilty to steroid distribution and conspiracy charges related to the Musclebear case.
May 2011: United States Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton told reporters that Oleksandr “Musclebear” Skochyk and Yeveniy Suray are currently being extradited.
How Many More Indictments are Forthcoming from the Musclebear Case?
May 2011: Information related to the prosecution of Musclebear’s domestic remailers has not yet been made public. Information regarding bulk customers who ordered directly from Musclebear and/or from remailers has not yet been made public. It is unknown if any other indictments are forthcoming but we may see a flurry of court filings once Musclebear arrives on U.S. soil and is arrested by U.S. Marshals.