Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Strong at Any Cost: Five deaths in 19 months linked to steroids, Lowen's pharmacy

His body was slumped over the desk, torn by two rounds from a .380 Beretta.
The first shot slammed through the left side of his chest and exited his armpit. The other lodged in his brain.
Next to his body was a plastic cup, a half-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and a note asking his wife, Justine, for forgiveness, according to two investigators who responded to the scene.
John Rossi, 56, had presided over the transformation of his small Brooklyn pharmacy into a multimillion dollar hub for the illegal distribution of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.
Now, days from a meeting with state drug investigators, he lay dead in an office above the store. Police and the medical examiner determined he took his own life.
Rossi’s suicide on Jan. 28, 2008, wasn’t the first unusual death connected to Lowen’s Compounding Pharmacy, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Five men died in a 19-month span, leaving an enfeebled investigation, a trove of unanswered questions and stark lessons about the physical and psychological dangers of the drugs Lowen’s shipped to police officers, firefighters and thousands of other people across the country.
In addition to Rossi, the dead included two patients, a police captain investigating steroid use among fellow officers, and Jersey City physician Joseph Colao, who became the pharmacy’s most prolific partner in the illicit steroid trade before dying at age 45 from hardening of the arteries.
The Pharmacist
Lowen’s Pharmacy in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is the classic corner drugstore.
The window display changes with the seasons: jack-o’-lanterns in the fall and Santas and snowflakes in the winter.
Behind that friendly front, Rossi’s two-shot death befuddled investigators, who had expected the grandfather to cooperate.
Multiple-gunshot suicides are uncommon but not unheard of, said Harvard University associate professor Matt Miller, who studies suicides. Such cases account for about 2 percent of all firearm suicides, according to statistics Miller provided.
The suicide ruling didn’t do much to tame speculation on internet blogs that Rossi had been murdered because of the pharmacy’s alleged ties to a New York crime family.
Staten Island film producer and registered pharmacist Julius Nasso, who was called a Gambino family associate in a 2002 federal indictment, held an ownership stake in the building that housed Lowen’s.
Nasso got 50 percent of all earnings from the shop, according to Mark Haskins, a former investigator for the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. Haskins said Rossi told him about the arrangement.
Attorney Robert Hantman denies his client, Nasso, had any involvement with the pharmacy or organized crime. Lowen's has since been sold. The new owners did not respond to requests for comment.
The Martial Artist
Keith Manni had long suffered from depression.

His ex-wife, Bonita, saw it when the two were together in the 1980s. Manni came close to joining the New York City Police Department but dropped out. Reaching a goal always seemed elusive for him, she remembered, adding that his lies and excuses grew tiring.
He turned to martial arts and dabbled with steroids to keep up his muscled physique, Bonita said.
After the divorce, Manni started dating Cat Garlo, a New York City singer. The curly-haired guitar player seemed pessimistic and prone to heavy drinking bouts, Garlo recalled.
More than a decade after the two split, Garlo met up with Manni in the summer of 2006. Manni was sick, he told her, with tumors in his body.
If true, the illness made his next course of treatment with Colao, the Jersey City physician, all the more curious and potentially dangerous.
Colao prescribed him growth hormone and stanozolol, a powerful anabolic steroid, according to a Star-Ledger review of the doctor’s prescription records and interviews with those who knew Manni.
Steroids can cause or worsen depression, research shows, and growth hormone can speed the growth of tumors.
“I think he was going to try it as a last resort,” Garlo said.
That fall, Garlo received a letter from Manni, dated Oct. 31. A recent surgery hadn’t gone well, he wrote. He was cutting off his cell phone, and this would be the last time she would hear from him.
On Nov. 1, police recovered Manni’s body in Newark Bay. Standing on the edge of a boat launch in Bayonne, he had shot himself in the mouth and tumbled into the water. He was 45.
The Bodybuilder
Even two hearts weren’t enough for Joe Baglio.

Years of steroid abuse had irreparably damaged his first heart. In 2004, the Staten Island bodybuilder received a life-saving transplant.
Given a new shot at life, Baglio soon squandered it.
Desperate to return to competitive bodybuilding, Baglio in 2005 began a regimen of steroids and human growth hormone through Richard Lucente, a doctor who dubbed his Staten Island wellness center “The Fountain of Youth.”
Lucente had forged a lucrative partnership with Lowen’s Pharmacy, which paid him more than $27,000 in kickbacks in exchange for increased steroid business, according to a 154-count indictment brought against the physician and the pharmacy by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
In March 2007, Baglio traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for the Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding competition named for Arnold Schwarzenneger.
While there, Baglio, 40, fell ill and underwent emergency gallbladder surgery.
He died on the operating table. His second heart had failed him.
Lucente was charged with reckless endangerment for giving steroids and HGH to Baglio. In March of this year, more than two weeks into his trial, Lucente pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge for accepting kickbacks from the pharmacy.
He forfeited medical licenses in New York and New Jersey and received five years’ probation.
Lucente, the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, and Baglio’s widow, Debra, declined comment for this story.
The Investigator
In late 2007, Ed Shinnick was promoted to captain and handed control of the Jersey City Police Department’s internal affairs division.

After only six months in his new job, he filed for retirement, telling his wife the stress was too much.
What happened between his promotion and his retirement is a matter of record.
In February 2008, just days after Rossi’s suicide, the New York City Police Department tipped Shinnick to the investigation into Lowen’s Pharmacy, suggesting more than 40 Jersey City officers were among the customers.
Over the next few months, Shinnick, 51, would oversee drug tests and strip officers of their badges and guns, at least until they tested clean. Details of the probe are found in two lawsuits, one a brutality suit brought against several officers, the other filed against the department by several of the officers who were tested.
On Wednesday, May 28, Shinnick met a friend for lunch. He then drove to a hotel near the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Inside, he shot himself twice. Once in the chest. Once in the head.
Two guns and a note were recovered at the scene.
The Star-Ledger’s request to Pennsylvania State Police for the report on Shinnick’s suicide, including the contents of his note, was denied.



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