It seemed like a routine seizure when federal customs agents intercepted a package of steroids at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. From JFK, the investigation led authorities to Anne Arundel County to what they now call one of the largest stashes of man-made muscle enhancers found in the region.
Federal authorities and Anne Arundel County police searched the locker of the Bally's personal trainer last summer and wrote in court papers that they found about 40,000 vials and tablets of suspected anabolic steroids stuffed inside a locked chest.
"It's unprecedented, as far as we're concerned," said Floyd Pond, deputy director of the Washington-Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force program. Ed Marcinko, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Baltimore, said he agreed with Pond's assessment.
James Dinkins, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement's Baltimore office, said he could not answer detailed questions about the investigation his office led because the case is pending in U.S. District Court.
But sources familiar with the ICE investigation said that Schlanger might have been responsible for trafficking in as many as 250,000 so-called units of steroids over the past five years.
Schlanger, 47, of Catonsville, could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted of federal drug conspiracy charges after authorities said they arrested one of his employees picking up a drug-filled package at a UPS store in July. A trial date has not been scheduled, attorneys in the case said.
Andrew Alperstein, Schlanger's defense lawyer, said Friday that he and his client had no comment on the charges.
A message left for the manager at Bally Total Fitness in Glen Burnie about Schlanger's employment was not returned yesterday. Alperstein said that his client has been released from federal custody to await his trial.
Court papers filed in federal and state courts, and sources familiar with the case, accuse Schlanger of working as a wholesale drug dealer who cast a wide net for customers, importing the muscle-building drugs through the mail from China and then reselling the steroids in the Baltimore region and nationally through the Internet.
Authorities said in court papers that Schlanger's activities came to light when customs agents intercepted a package filled 3,038 units - usually either a vial or tablet - of steroids at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on July 5. The parcel was addressed to "Country Crafts," a federal agent wrote.
While agents investigated, two more packages arrived, one from China and one from Great Britain, court papers show. Authorities reported they contained 960 vials of Igtropin, an insulin-like growth steroid and testosterone enanthate.
Federal authorities brought in Anne Arundel County police to set up a "controlled delivery" of the drugs July 13 to the UPS store in Severna Park. When a man, Pierre R. Gumucio, retrieved the packages, he and his girlfriend, Rachael Ann Martin were arrested, officials said.
Inside their car were bags of clear glass vials of suspected steroids, orange pills and a book marked "ANABOLIC," according to court papers.
At Anne Arundel County's Eastern District, agents wrote that Gumucio confessed.
"Mr. Gumucio stated that he had been an 'on again off again'" recreational drug user for years," ICE Special Agent Jon Marsicano Jr. wrote in an affidavit.
He told investigators that he worked for Schlanger, receiving two to three packages a week for him from China over the past couple of years and wiring overseas payments for the drugs on Schlanger's behalf.
"According to Mr. Gumucio, Mr. Schlanger stated that U.S. Customs flagged him for prior importation of steroids and it was very difficult for him to receive packages without Customs inspecting them," Marsicano wrote in court papers. Schlanger also served as a moderator on professionalmuscle.com, using his connections to find customers around Baltimore and across the country, according to Gumucio's account in court papers.
The break in the case came when Gumucio told agents about Schlanger's storage locker, court papers say.
Anne Arundel police obtained a search warrant for the locker off Fort Meade Road. Inside, they wrote in court papers, they found about 18,200 doses of suspected steroids. Agents familiar with the case said this week that the final number inside the locker was actually 40,000 - a figure reflected in the pending federal indictment against Schlanger.
On the same day, July 14, agents attempted to search Schlanger's home on Arunah Avenue in Catonsville. But as they did, they found Schlanger at home and detained him as they sought a separate arrest warrant.
Inside his home, court papers say, authorities found more steroids, packaging material and vials. In August, a federal magistrate judge signed a search warrant for investigators to obtain electronic records of Schlanger's Yahoo e-mail account. Public court records do not reflect what agents found as part of their search.
After facing charges of drug possession in state court, authorities decided to move Schlanger's case and indicted him for conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids in federal court on Sept. 20. Gumucio and Martin's drug possession cases remain in state email@example.com
Sun reporter Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.