Steroids case tied to store in Gate City

CONCORD – The federal government seeks to seize the headquarters of an Illinois company that makes a nutritional supplement alleged to contain an illegal steroid, after a federal agent bought several bottles of the stuff at a General Nutrition Center store in Nashua last year, court records show.

The government filed a forfeiture complaint earlier this month in U.S. District Court against the manufacturing plant and headquarters of Ergopharm, Inc., and parent company Proviant Technologies, Inc., at 309 W. Hensley Blvd., Champaign, Ill.

Proviant’s phone line has been disconnected, and no one could be reached for comment at the company Monday. An answering machine picked up the line at Ergopharm Inc., but no one could be reached there.

According to the complaint, filed July 17 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Aframe, the two companies make supplements sold under the names 6-OXO and 6-OXO Extreme, which they claim help build and tone muscle by reducing estrogen hormone levels.

The forfeiture complaint alleges that the two products account for the majority of Ergopharm’s sales, and that the company grossed about $10 million between 2006 and 2008. The 6-acre property at 309 W. Hensley Blvd is assessed at about $2.6 million, according to Champaign County tax records.The drug garnered considerable free publicity last year after Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero, who also pitched a stint with the Red Sox in 2007, was suspended after testing positive for the banned ingredient, androstentedione. Romero has since sued the companies.

Aframe could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

It’s not clear why the drug forfeiture case was brought in New Hampshire, except that a Drug Enforcement Administration agent bought several bottles of the two products at a General Nutrition Center shop in the Pheasant Lane Mall on Nov. 25, 2008, the complaint states.

The products, which cost a total of $114.98, tested positive for androstenedione, the complaint alleges. The complaint doesn’t specify how much of the banned substance the products contained, however.

“The DEA conducted a chemical analysis of the capsules from both bottles which revealed that they did, in fact, contain androstenedione,” the complaint states, adding, “Invoices obtained from GNC showed the sale and shipment of 6-OXO Extreme from Proviant Technologies . . . to GNC in November 2008.”

The government seeks “to forfeit and condemn” the property in Champaign, Ill., which is owned by Market Street Investment Group, another corporation owned in turn by Patrick Arnold, a chemist who heads Ergopharm.

Arnold is generally credited with introducing androstenedione or “andro” to the United States market, according to Wikipedia, and the product was widely used (in baseball and elsewhere) before being banned in 2004.

Arnold previously was convicted on steroid distribution charges in California in 2006, the complaint states, for his role in the “BALCO” scandal, in which numerous professional athletes were found to be taking a previously undetectable steroid nicknamed “The Clear.”

Federal agents searched the Ergopharm/Proviant plant in January, according to the complaint, after getting a warrant from a federal court judge. The Telegraph was unable to find records of any such warrant or case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, however.