Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry. – Thomas Jefferson
We each own our body and thus have the right to ingest any substance we choose, whether it be water, heroin or glass. If I harm someone I am responsible for my actions whether I’m coked out of my mind or stone cold sober.
But what if someone ingests substances – steroids in this case – for which they imprison others? Their victimization of others, already significant per their subsisting on the labor and wealth-creation of strangers, is only compounded by this double-standard.
In this first of a three-part investigation by Amy Brittain and Mark Mueller it’s disclosed that one doctor provided almost 250 cops and firefighters steroids and HGH. Is anyone surprised that no cop arrested a colleague for their actions which violated the law they purport to enforce? Such action or inaction only highlights the above-the-law mentality of those who purport to “serve” us and provide yet another reason why this good/service should be provided via voluntary means.
Props to Jim Poesl for putting this on my radar.
On a rainy August morning in 2007, the news rippled through New Jersey’s law enforcement ranks, officer to officer, department to department.
Joseph Colao was dead.
The 45-year-old physician had collapsed in his Jersey City apartment, the victim of heart failure.
Within hours, officers were calling the Hudson County public safety complex.
“Is it true?” they asked, recalled Detective Sgt. Ken Kolich, who’d drawn the routine assignment to look into the death. “Did Dr. Colao die?”
Kolich didn’t suspect foul play, but he found it odd — and a little disturbing — that so many officers were interested in the fate of a man with no official ties to any police agency.
Today, it’s clear Colao was more than just a doctor, friend or confidant to many of the officers.
He was their supplier.
A seven-month Star-Ledger investigation drawing on prescription records, court documents and detailed interviews with the physician’s employees shows Colao ran a thriving illegal drug enterprise that supplied anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters throughout New Jersey.Strong at Any Cost
A three-part Star-Ledger series on the secret world of steroid use by law enforcement officers and firefighters.
• About this series
• List of law enforcement agencies, fire departments
• Glossary of terms
Part 1: Today
• N.J. doctor supplied steroids to hundreds of law enforcement officers, firefighters
• Five deaths in 19 months linked to steroids, Lowen’s pharmacy
• Legal cases linked to N.J. police who received steroids through Dr. Colao
• Ex-Jets quarterback Ray Lucas was prescribed steroids, HGH by Dr. Colao
Part 2: Coming Monday
• N.J. taxpayers get bill for millions in steroid, growth hormone prescriptions for cops, firefighters
• Ex-Harrison firefighter on disability works full-time for N.C. fire department
Part 3: Coming Tuesday
• Booming anti-aging business relies on risky mix of steroids, growth hormone
From a seemingly above-board practice in Jersey City, Colao frequently broke the law and his own oath by faking medical diagnoses to justify his prescriptions for the drugs, the investigation shows.
Many of the officers and firefighters willingly took part in the ruse, finding Colao provided an easy way to obtain tightly regulated substances that are illegal without a valid prescription, the investigation found.
Others were persuaded by the physician’s polished sales pitch, one that glossed over the risks and legal realities, the newspaper found. A small percentage may have legitimately needed the drugs to treat uncommon medical conditions.
In most cases, if not all, they used their government health plans to pay for the substances. Evidence gathered by The Star-Ledger suggests the total cost to taxpayers reaches into the millions of dollars.
In just over a year, records show, at least 248 officers and firefighters from 53 agencies used Colao’s fraudulent practice to obtain muscle-building drugs, some of which have been linked to increased aggression, confusion and reckless behavior.
Six of those patients — four police officers and two corrections officers — were named in lawsuits alleging excessive force or civil rights violations around the time they received drugs from him or shortly afterward.
Others have been arrested, fired or suspended for off-duty infractions that include allegations of assault, domestic abuse, harassment and drug possession. One patient was left nearly paralyzed after suffering a stroke his doctor attributed to growth hormone prescribed by Colao.
For many in the physician’s care, use of the drugs apparently didn’t end with Colao’s death.
They instead sought other doctors who specialize in prescribing growth hormone or testosterone, an anabolic steroid, according to patients, legal documents and the doctors themselves. The physicians have not been accused of wrongdoing.
Attorney General Paula Dow, New Jersey’s top law enforcement official, called the newspaper’s findings “disturbing” on a number of levels and said the issue should be collectively examined by state officials, prosecutors and police chiefs.
“If it’s shown that these law enforcement officers are getting steroids and human growth hormone through illegal manners, and specifically through false prescriptions, that’s a violation of the law,” Dow said. “It’s a fraud on the system, and it’s something that should be stopped.”
While questions have been raised about some of Colao’s patients, many have been recognized for acts of heroism. Some have taken killers, carjackers and armed robbers off the streets. They have confiscated millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs intended for New Jersey neighborhoods. One talked a man out of committing suicide. Another saved the life of a choking infant.
In Colao, they found a doctor whose methods were simple and lucrative. Employees in his inner circle say he created bogus diagnoses for low testosterone levels or adult growth hormone deficiency, a condition that affects just one in 100,000 people, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
“If you had 100,000 police officers come in, you’d get one,” said Oregon physician David Cook, a spokesman for the endocrinologists group. “Obviously, he was doing it unscrupulously.”
Legitimate diagnoses of testosterone deficiency are likewise far less common than Colao’s practice would suggest. About 2 percent of men in their mid-30s have a bona fide deficiency, Cook said. The officers and firefighters identified by The Star-Ledger had a median age of 35 when they obtained the substances.
University of Texas professor John Hoberman, who has studied doping in and out of sports for a quarter-century, called The Star-Ledger’s findings “extraordinary and unprecedented evidence” of a national problem that has been “systematically ignored” for more than two decades.
“The use of performance-enhancers among first-responders has been a tabooed topic since it first came to light during the 1980s,” Hoberman said. “This should shock the public as well as the public officials who will now have to take a stand on the widespread doping of public service professionals who carry guns and save lives.”Photos courtesy of Bayonne Medical Center/Leon ColaoJersey City physician Joseph Colao. The picture at left is from 1997. The photo at right was taken in 2005. A survivor of triple-bypass surgery, Colao underwent a transformation. His new body: tanned, toned and muscled. In 2007, Colao died of hardening of the arteries at age 45.
Gladys Nieves remembers when Joseph Colao could barely pay the bills.
Colao’s pain-management practice was foundering, and it seemed the doctor was, too. He had undergone triple bypass surgery at age 38. He was overweight and relied on a daily cocktail of medications to treat heart problems and keep his blood pressure and cholesterol in check, said Nieves, Colao’s patient coordinator from the late 1990s until his death.
Those were the hard times, before the wait for an appointment stretched to months. Before Colao, suddenly flush with cash, shelled out for $2,000 dinners in Manhattan and shopping sprees at Neiman Marcus, Chanel and Coach. Before he became a crusader for hormones.
Victor Biancamano, Colao’s former office manager, said it was about six years ago when Colao flew to Las Vegas for a crash course in hormone replacement therapy, a staple treatment of the anti-aging movement.
The new tools of his trade: testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, delivered in creams or through a needle; stanozolol, the steroid that cost Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson his gold medal in 1988; and HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. Though not a steroid, HCG is often taken with steroids or at the end of a steroid cycle to kick-start the body’s production of testosterone.
Human growth hormone, commonly known as HGH, joined the list of Colao’s favored drugs despite the restrictions on its use.
The anabolic steroids Colao worked with have far different functions than the class of substances found in many commonly prescribed products. Corticosteroids, for instance, are anti-inflammatories used to treat a host of medical conditions, including asthma, arthritis, allergies and cancer.
For Colao, who studied at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, the move to hormones and steroids marked a change from the physical therapy track he took after his graduation in 1992. But the new focus seemed to agree with him.
To Nieves, now a 42-year-old single mother, the transformation was stunning. It wasn’t just the increased business. Colao himself had changed. Trim and tanned, with muscle filling out his frame, the doctor looked every bit the anti-aging miracle man.
Along with the new focus came an important new relationship.Tim Farrell/The Star-LedgerLowen’s Compounding Pharmacy in Bay Bridge, Brooklyn, became a mass producer of anabolic steroids and growth hormone several years ago. Jersey physician Joseph Colao directed patients to fill their prescriptions there in exchange for kickbacks of growth hormone given to the doctor, investigators say. The pharmacy is now under new ownership.
Representatives of Lowen’s Pharmacy, a neighborhood drugstore in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, were shopping for doctors who could help them expand by moving huge quantities of steroids and growth hormone illegally imported from China, said Mark Haskins, who investigated the pharmacy for the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, a division of the health department.
“Without a doctor, you can’t peddle the stuff,” said Haskins, who retired from the agency after helping secure an indictment against Lowen’s. “You only need one doctor, and you’re golden.”
Colao became that doctor.
The physician steered clients to Lowen’s, and the pharmacy sent Colao boxes of HGH as a kickback, Haskins said. The more product Colao pushed, the more he received off the books. And the more he received, the more he could sell for cash, Haskins said.
“Dr. Colao sold drugs,” Haskins said. “Lowen’s sold drugs. There was no doctor-patient relationship here.”
Nieves and Erika Lehar, the office’s blood specialist, said the HGH sales took place after hours or during lunch, when few people were in the waiting room. Colao directed Nieves to handle the smaller HGH purchases, or those under $1,000, she said.
“Doc would just give me the medicine in the box, and he would say so-and-so is coming to pick this up,” Nieves said.
Larger sales were handled by Biancamano, the former office manager, according to Nieves and Lehar.
“I would see boxes on the floor and him getting stuff out of the box,” Lehar said. “It was like a transaction. They paid cash. I would see them counting money. Some would be patients, and some would be Victor’s friends.”
Biancamano, 36, who left Colao’s practice shortly before the doctor’s death, denied involvement in HGH sales or in any aspect of the physician’s hormone business, saying Nieves oversaw all patients and transactions.
“He never even taught me the business when it came to hormones,” Biancamano said. “Him and Gladys handled everything. People have nothing else better to do than make up stories.”The Star-Ledger identified 248 New Jersey law enforcement officers and firefighters who obtained anabolic steroids or other testosterone-boosting hormones from Jersey City physician Joseph Colao.
Here’s a breakdown of the departments they came from:
Asbury Park police …….. 1
Bayonne police …….. 12
Bayonne fire department …….. 2
Bedminster police …….. 1
Bergen County police …….. 1
Bergen County sheriff/corrections …….. 7
Bloomfield police …….. 1
Brick Township police …….. 2
Cliffside Park police …….. 1
Clifton police …….. 1
Deal police …….. 1
East Orange police …….. 1
Eatontown police …….. 1
Edison police …….. 8
Edison fire department …….. 1
Essex County sheriff’s/corrections …….. 6
Fort Lee Borough police …….. 2
Franklin police …….. 6
Guttenberg police …….. 1
Hackensack police …….. 1
Harrison police …….. 1
Harrison Township fire department …….. 4
Hoboken police …….. 10
Hoboken fire department …….. 2
Hudson County sheriff’s/corrections …….. 14
Jersey City police …….. 40
Jersey City fire department …….. 27
Linden police …….. 1
Linden fire department …….. 1
Lodi police …….. 2
Monmouth County sheriff’s …….. 1
Newark police …….. 4
Newark fire department …….. 2
New Milford police …….. 1
N.J. Department of Corrections …….. 16
N.J. State Police …….. 3
NJ Transit …….. 12
North Bergen police …….. 1
North Hudson fire department …….. 3
Ocean County sheriff’s department …….. 1
Ocean Township police …….. 1
Old Bridge police …….. 1
Passaic sheriff’s department …….. 18
Paterson police …….. 7
Paterson fire department …….. 1
Port Authority …….. 1
South Hackensack police …….. 2
Union City police …….. 8
Union Township police …….. 1
Weehawken police …….. 2
West Milford police …….. 1
West Orange police …….. 1
Woodbridge police …….. 1
In some counties, sheriff’s officers are members of the corrections department. In other counties, the sheriff’s department and corrections department are separate entities.
A Growing Clientele
From the squad rooms and firehouses of Hudson County, word of Colao’s reputation radiated out, town by town, county by county.
It was around 2005 when the first law enforcement officers and firefighters came to Colao for steroids, employees and patients said. Each month brought new faces from new departments. By early 2007, the office had become “a hangout for cops and firefighters,” Nieves said.
Eight officers came from the Edison Police Department, seven from Paterson. Six more traveled from Franklin Township in Somerset County, Colao’s prescription records from Lowen’s Pharmacy show.
There were sheriff’s officers and corrections officers from Bergen, Essex, Passaic and Ocean counties. Other clients included a dozen NJ Transit police officers, at least three state troopers and 16 state corrections officers working in seven prisons.
Distance wasn’t an obstacle.
Police officers made the trek to Jersey City from Eatontown, Deal, Asbury Park and Bedminster. One corrections officer, assigned to Southern State Correctional Facility in Cumberland County, lived more than 100 miles away.
There were patrolmen and deputy chiefs, detectives and union representatives. Two patients counseled students against drug use through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which lists anabolic steroids on its national website as “one of the most dangerous categories of performance-enhancing drugs.”
Another works in internal affairs, policing other officers’ behavior. Six of those who received steroids through Lowen’s were women.
Nieves said the medical practice’s swift growth came without the benefit of advertising. Colao didn’t believe in it.
“I remember someone asking Colao, ‘How do you get so many patients?’ ” Nieves said. “He would look at me, give me a smile and say, ‘All word of mouth. I don’t have to do a thing.’ ”
Residents of Hudson County formed the backbone of the practice, prescription records show. At least 40 Jersey City police officers and 27 city firefighters received hormones from Colao.
Smaller numbers of officers came from Bayonne, Hoboken and Union City. Fourteen more officers represented the county sheriff’s and corrections departments.
At the time of their treatment, the officers and firefighters ranged in age from 23 to 59, with almost three-quarters under 40.
To medical experts interviewed by The Star-Ledger, the clearest indication of something amiss in Colao’s practice is the number of young officers and firefighters — men still in their physical prime — who obtained steroids from him.
More than three dozen of the 248 identified by the newspaper were in their mid- to late 20s at the time, and dozens more were in their early to mid-30s.
Jersey City officer Michael Stise was 26 when he filled the first of seven prescriptions for testosterone and HCG in March 2007, according to the pharmacy’s records and a brutality lawsuit later filed against him and another officer.
Stise did not respond to requests for comment, and a lawyer representing him in the lawsuit did not return phone calls.
For dozens of patients, records show, Colao served up steroid cocktails, combining testosterone, HCG and stanozolol, the generic name for Winstrol, a drug popular with athletes and bodybuilders.Greg Pallante/NorthJersey.comRafael Galan, an officer in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department, filled prescriptions for anabolic steroids from Jersey City physician Joseph Colao. Galan, shown posing in 2006 for a calendar shoot, faced a criminal charge of official misconduct for allegedly tipping off the subject of a drug investigation. The charge was dropped, and he was reinstated earlier this year, according to Bill Maer, the department’s spokesman.
In the parlance of performance-enhancing drugs, it’s known as stacking.
Between October 2006 and July 2007, the month before Colao’s death, Jersey City officer Brian McGovern filled 20 prescriptions for stanozolol, testosterone, human growth hormone, HCG and nandrolone, according to the pharmacy records and legal documents.
Nandrolone is one of three steroids former major league pitcher Roger Clemens is alleged to have used.
McGovern, 40, was charged with misdemeanor assault and suspended for seven days after getting into a fight in Point Pleasant Beach in May 2009. He did not return calls for comment.
At least one of Colao’s patients is a competitive bodybuilder. Passaic County sheriff’s Detective Rafael Galan, 39, won the Mr. New Jersey middleweight bodybuilding title in 2006.
Galan has had a tumultuous tenure in Passaic County. In 2004, he was one of several sheriff’s officers ordered to undergo testing for steroids, according to a news account at the time. He later sued the department, claiming the tests were ordered illegally. The results were not made public.
Last year, he was criminally charged with official misconduct for allegedly tipping off a drug dealer to an investigation.
The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office dropped the case with little explanation in April.
Galan returned to the department in July. He did not respond to requests for comment. Records show Lowen’s sent him testosterone and HCG in January 2007.Courtesy of Leon ColaoJersey City physician Joseph Colao, shown here in 2005, evangelized for the hormones and steroids he prescribed. A survivor of triple-bypass surgery, Colao underwent a transformation. His new body: tanned, toned and muscled. In 2007, Colao died of hardening of the arteries at age 45.
That same year, he would appear shirtless in a beefcake calendar sold under the name Calendar Cops and produced for charity by the publisher of NJ COPS, a monthly law enforcement magazine.
He spoke with the fervor of an evangelist, salting his pitch with first-person details.
In the exam rooms of his Jersey City office, Joseph Colao told patients hormones had changed his life, according to employees and several officers and firefighters who were patients.
Growth hormone, he said, was as close to the “fountain of youth” as a drug could get. And if it was sexual prowess you wanted, testosterone was just the thing.
Among some two dozen patients who spoke to The Star-Ledger about Colao, not one could recall him discussing the serious health problems that can result from the drugs. Those problems include liver damage, prostate enlargement and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
It didn’t matter if patients’ blood work showed their hormone levels in the normal range. Colao prescribed the drugs anyway, said Nieves, his patient coordinator, and Lehar, the office’s blood specialist.
“His mentality was to get them to the max, the highest,” Nieves said.
Colao’s younger brother, Leon Colao, disputes Nieves’ characterization, saying that in the several years he worked as his brother’s office manager, he never saw Colao push a drug that wasn’t medically necessary. Leon Colao left the practice in 2005, returning to work there shortly before his brother’s death.
“My brother worked a very long time to get his medical license,” said Leon Colao, 32. “He wouldn’t jeopardize that for anything in the world.”
As the practice grew, Nieves said, Colao upgraded security, installing video cameras and a locking system that required patients to be buzzed in.
Nieves wondered if Colao just wanted the place to feel more professional, but she’d also noticed an increase in the number of unruly patients. More of them seemed to be edgy or quick to lose their temper, she said.
One incident still frightens her.Tim Farrell/The Star-LedgerPhysician Joseph Colao owned the Lincoln Park Wellness Center, located on John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City. Colao’s office, which boomed when he started prescribing anabolic steroids and hormones, was vacated after his death in 2007.
It was a gray day, near dusk. As Nieves left Colao’s basement office, a Jersey City police officer greeted her.
He’d been waiting in his patrol car, as if on a stakeout. When he spotted Nieves, he climbed from the driver’s seat and confronted her.
“Where’s doc?” he barked.
The officer, who’d been taking HCG and a high dose of injectable testosterone, wanted his drugs immediately, Nieves said.
She told him Colao wasn’t in the office. Then she hurried away.
“He abused the medicine,” Nieves said. “He was scary.”
The Star-Ledger confirmed the officer’s identity and prescriptions but is withholding his name at the request of Nieves, who said she fears retaliation.
The changing practice was confusing, even alarming, to Nieves. She didn’t get many answers from Colao.
“He told me, ‘The less you know, the better.’ He kept stuff from me,” she said. “He was over his head. But the money motivated him.”
Lehar, the office’s blood specialist, 35, likewise suspected there was more to her employer’s practice than Colao wanted anyone to know.
“There was a lot of mystery in there,” she said.
Some patients, for instance, bypassed the typical appointment process. Those were the “important people” — athletes, bodybuilders and high-profile officials — who didn’t want to be seen or leave a paper trail, Lehar said.
“They would hide them,” she said. “They would come in late, through the back door, so no one could see these characters coming into the office.”
Looking back, Lehar said, she should have realized Colao was breaking medical protocol, if not the law. Today, that idea haunts her. What if someone had died, she wonders. What if she had gotten in trouble?Reena Rose Sibayan/The Jersey JournalJersey City police officer Victor Vargas, shown during a court appearance in 2008, was named in a lawsuit alleging a case of “roid rage.” Vargas received anabolic steroids and growth hormone from Jersey City physician Joseph Colao, records show. The case went to binding arbitration in October.
Nieves maintains a softer view of Colao. Despite her concerns about what went on, she said, she believes the physician cared about his patients and wanted to help them, however unorthodox his methods.
“He was a good man,” she said.
Allegations of Violence
The man on the stoop looked “wild-eyed.”
Mathias Bolton stood inside the vestibule of his Jersey City apartment building, trying to decide what to do.
Moments earlier, after hearing footsteps and bangs on his roof, he had called police to report a possible break-in. Then he had rushed down the stairs to let the officers in. Bolton had expected to find a uniformed officer when he opened the door on that August night in 2007.
Instead he saw a man in street clothes, with no badge visible, shouting at him, he claims in a lawsuit against the Jersey City Police Department.
“He looks very nervous and wild-eyed and looks like … to me he looks like a thug,” Bolton said in a deposition last year. “And he yells at me, ‘Did you call the police? Did you call the police?’ And I’m hearing the sirens coming, and I — at that point — I’m just terrified. I just let the guys in who were on the roof.”
The man on the stoop wasn’t a burglar. He was Jersey City officer Victor Vargas, whose use of steroids would come to play a central role in Bolton’s lawsuit against the city.
During the suit’s discovery phase, Bolton’s lawyers learned Vargas, now 33, was one of two officers on the scene that night to have received steroids or growth hormone from Colao. The other is Stise, the officer who was just 26 when Lowen’s sent him drugs.
Between January and August 2007, Vargas filled 11 prescriptions for HCG, testosterone and growth hormone through Lowen’s and a local Walgreens, the lawsuit states.
Bolton claims Vargas never identified himself as a police officer and, in a steroid-induced rage, sent him sprawling with a punch to the face.
“I grab onto the railing and this guy — it turns out to be Victor Vargas — and he’s pounding me like a bear, like over and over,” Bolton, 37, said in his deposition.
Bolton contends Vargas then tossed him down the stairs to the sidewalk, where other arriving officers, including Stise, continued to beat him.
“Mr. Bolton’s description of the sudden and violent behavior he allegedly encountered with the city police officer Vargas, if true, is consistent with a manifestation of the aggressiveness that is known to occur with anabolic steroids,” wrote Gary Wadler, Bolton’s steroids expert.
The officers provide a markedly different account of the incident in legal papers, saying Vargas and others on the scene clearly identified themselves, repeatedly ordered Bolton to stop resisting and acted with restraint in subduing a man they claimed was punching and kicking them.
Bolton was charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer. The counts were later dropped.
Thomas Jardim, a lawyer who represents Vargas and Stise, deferred comment to Jersey City Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis. In a statement, Matsikoudis said all of the accused officers “conducted themselves appropriately” and that Bolton’s claims are “totally without merit.”
In October, both sides agreed to resolve the case through binding arbitration. It remains ongoing.
The Bolton suit is one of at least five alleging brutality or civil rights violations by police officers or corrections officers who filled prescriptions for steroids from Colao.
In Edison, allegations of brutality against two of Colao’s patients are now under investigation by the FBI.
Detective Salvatore Capriglione, 44, and Patrolman Scot Sofield, 36, are among five Edison officers accused of beating Lenus Germe, 44, as he lay on the ground in May 2008. A video camera in a nearby patrol car recorded the incident.
Later, at Edison police headquarters, the officers allegedly threw a handcuffed Germe down a flight of stairs and beat him into unconsciousness, leaving him with a concussion and internal injuries that required hospital treatment, according to a lawsuit Germe filed against the department.
Officers counter that Germe, a domestic violence suspect, went for an officer’s gun and tried to run away. Germe pleaded guilty to resisting arrest and was sentenced to a year in county jail. He has since been released.
His lawyer, Lennox Hinds, said FBI agents have interviewed his client. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment. Sofield and Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan did not respond to requests for comment.
Records show Sofield filled a total of three prescriptions for HCG and testosterone in December 2006 and January 2007. Capriglione filled nine prescriptions for testosterone, stanozolol and HCG between April and July 2007.
Capriglione’s lawyer, Charles J. Sciarra, called his client a decorated officer who has a “spotless employment record” and who did nothing wrong, either in the arrest of Germe or in taking medication prescribed by Colao.
Any suggested link between that medication and the allegations by Germe, a convicted criminal seeking a “taxpayer-funded payday,” is “scraping the barrel,” Sciarra said.
‘Quack’ or hero?
Alex Ambros said he knew a questionable doctor when he saw one.
The former state corrections officer had once been a patient of Jerrold Goldstein, a Millburn physician who so liberally prescribed testosterone, growth hormone and other drugs to his many law enforcement clients they dubbed him “Dr. Feelgood,” Ambros said.
Goldstein was stripped of his medical license in 2005. A year later, he committed suicide.
So it was in the fall of 2006 that Ambros found himself in the office of Joseph Colao, whose name was circulating as an able substitute who would meet an officer’s needs.
To Ambros, now 49 and three years into retirement, Colao seemed like a “quack.”
Ambros, who described himself as morbidly obese, said he never took steroids from Goldstein and wasn’t looking for them from Colao. He wanted diet pills to lose weight, saying he preferred a “magic bullet” over time in the gym.
While waiting for his appointment, he said, he noticed he was the only overweight person in the room.
“Everyone else looked like they came out of Muscle and Fitness magazine,” Ambros said, recalling the scene with a laugh. “Immediately I felt out of place.”
Colao gave him a warm welcome when the physician learned he was a corrections officer, telling him “that’s, like, the majority of my practice.”
“He said there were police, firefighters, sheriff’s officers, Port Authority guys,” Ambros said.
The doctor, he said, raced from exam room to exam room, as if he had too many patients and too little time.Patti Sapone/The Star-LedgerRetired Jersey City firefighter Harold Motley, shown here in November, holds an old injection pen of human growth hormone prescribed for him years ago by Jersey City physician Joseph Colao. Motley, who praised Colao as a caring doctor, says the drugs made him feel more energetic.
“He was a Speedy Gonzales type. Boom boom, you need this, boom boom,” Ambros said.
Colao gave him prescriptions for phentermine, a weight loss drug, and an injectable liquid. Ambros said he didn’t remember the drug’s name and didn’t take it. Records show Lowen’s Pharmacy sent him testosterone in November 2006. Ambros said the vial sat in his refrigerator for five months. Then he threw it away.
Former Jersey City firefighter Harold Motley had a higher opinion of Colao, calling him a “good guy” who seemed interested in helping him achieve his goal of losing weight.
Motley, who retired earlier this year at age 50, said Colao told him to eliminate pasta and cheese from his diet, then explained how certain medications could change his life.
“He said he was going to give me some stuff to make me feel 18 again,” Motley said. “I took it, of course. He’s a doctor. I’m not going to say no.”
Colao told him he was taking similar drugs to “help him in the gym.”
“He was chiseled,” Motley said. “He said he worked out all the time.”
The retired firefighter said Colao gave him prescriptions for AndroGel, a testosterone cream, and Norditropin, a brand of growth hormone. Motley said he had no idea Norditropin was a form of HGH, adding he also didn’t realize it was so expensive, at about $1,100 per month. Motley’s city insurance plan covered the cost.
Today, Motley said he believes Colao did nothing inappropriate, saying the physician enjoyed a stellar reputation among men in uniform because he could help them feel better, get stronger and improve their sex lives.
“In the world of police and firemen, he died a hero,” Motley said.
Anabolic steroid: Anabolic/androgenic steroids, usually referred to as anabolic steroids, are drugs manufactured to act like male sex hormones. Nandrolone, stanozolol and testosterone derivatives are just a few. In an anabolic/androgenic steroid, the anabolic qualities are known for building muscle and bone, while the androgenic qualities are known for masculine effects, like libido and hair growth.
“Roid rage”: A real, although uncommon, side effect of anabolic steroid use. It’s the display of irrational behavior, such as anger, aggression, confusion or recklessness. Generally, the higher the dose of steroids, the more likely this behavior occurs.
T/E ratio: A ratio of the body’s testosterone to epitestosterone levels, taken from a urine sample, that can indicate steroid use. A normal ratio is about 1-1, while a ratio above 4-1 is enough for disqualification from many sporting events. The Jersey City Police Department used a 6-1 ratio as the threshold during a steroids probe in 2008.
Stacking: Taking more than one anabolic steroid, sometimes in combination with other hormones, at the same time to maximize muscle growth.
Cycles: Customized schedules for taking steroids to build muscle mass. Cycles typically last between six weeks and several months, followed by steroid-free periods to give the body recovery time.
What is it? Human growth hormone is naturally produced by the body’s pea-sized pituitary gland. Somatropin, the biological equivalent of HGH, is synthetically produced.
How it’s taken: Injections
Brand names: Saizen, Norditropin, Genotropin and Humatrope are a few.
Legalities: HGH is legal for adults with very specific medical conditions: muscle wasting from AIDS, short bowel syndrome or a growth hormone deficiency. The latter is a condition that affects one of every 100,000 American adults annually, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
What it does: Promotes muscle growth, decreases body fat and affects the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein.
Side effects/risks: Swelling, joint pain, headache, sore bones, carpal tunnel syndrome and insomnia. While it is not known to cause cancer, HGH can speed the growth of cancerous tumors.
In the news: In 2007, actor Sylvester Stallone pleaded guilty to bringing nearly 50 HGH vials into Australia.
What is it? human chorionic gonadotropin: a prescription drug made of a pregnancy hormone found naturally in women.
How it’s taken: Injections
Brand names: Novarel, Pregnyl, Profasi
Legalities: FDA approved
Uses: Treating infertility in women and decreased function of the testicles in
men. Medical experts warn against bogus claims that the drug can speed weight loss, but it’s still promoted on the internet as a miracle diet aid.
What it does: It boosts the body’s natural testosterone production during or after a cycle of steroids. It can also help reverse some of the testicular atrophy that occurs in some steroid users.
Side effects/risks: Enlargement of male breasts, mood changes, headaches.
In the news: Former L.A. Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games in 2009 for allegedly possessing HCG, a banned substance in Major League Baseball.
What is it? In the body, testosterone is the male sex hormone known for its muscle-building properties. Synthesized in the 1930s, it’s now produced in a variety of forms that mimic the natural hormone.
How it’s taken: Gels that are rubbed into the skin, injections and orally.
Brand names: AndroGel and Testim are common gels. Delatestryl and Depo-Testosterone are two popular injections.
Legalities: Testosterone is regulated as a Schedule III drug by the Anabolic Steroids Control Act. It’s legal with a valid prescription.
What it does: Commonly used to treat aging males with hypogonadism, a medical term for testosterone deficiency. Injections with higher percentages of testosterone are more potent and notorious for use by athletes and bodybuilders to gain muscle.
Side effects/risks: Long-term use can lead to testicular atrophy or pituitary gland damage. Other rare, but more severe, risks: hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular strain, mood changes, high blood pressure, and liver or kidney damage.
What is it? An anabolic/androgenic steroid altered to produce better muscle-building properties, making it very popular for bodybuilders.
How it’s taken: Tablets or injections
Brand names: Winstrol, although that brand is no longer in production in the United States.
Legalities: Regulated as a Schedule III drug, meaning a valid prescription is required for possession.
What it does: Promotes muscle growth. In the past, it has been prescribed for patients with osteoporosis, growth deficiencies and hereditary angioedema, a disease that causes swelling.
Side effects/risks: Oily skin, acne and hair loss. More severe risks include liver damage, cardiovascular strain, mood changes and hardening of the arteries.
In the news: Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold medal after testing positive for stanozolol.
Sources: Star-Ledger research; interviews with medical experts
Compiled by Amy Brittain
Coming Under Scrutiny
Colao was no hero to Leonard Era.
On March 21, 2006, the former corrections officer collapsed during his shift at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County. Era’s limbs began to shake. He lost control of his bladder and fell unconscious. At 37, he had suffered a stroke.
Three months earlier, the Bayonne man had gone to see Colao because he wanted to get stronger and slim down, according to a lawsuit filed in the case. Era’s weight-lifting friends identified Colao as a man who could help.
Colao ran blood tests, which showed Era’s hormone levels within normal ranges, the lawsuit states. In all respects but one — Era suffered from hypertension — he was perfectly healthy.
Yet Colao diagnosed him with adult growth hormone deficiency and testosterone deficiency, putting the corrections officer on a weekly regimen of Saizen, a form of growth hormone, and HCG, according to the suit.
A doctor who later reviewed Colao’s records on behalf of Era determined the drugs led to his stroke.
“There was no medical indication to give him these drugs,” Era’s lawyer, Abbott Brown, said in an interview. “Dr. Colao was negligent. He deviated from a generally accepted standard.”
Today, Era still has trouble speaking and can barely move his right arm, said his father, also named Leonard. The family settled with Colao’s insurance company for an undisclosed sum.
Four months after Era’s stroke, another incident would draw the first law enforcement scrutiny of Colao’s prescribing habits.
Andrew Wietecha, a muscled 23-year-old police officer in North Bergen, was charged with marijuana possession and drunken driving in July 2006 after crashing his car in Seaside Park, an Ocean County beach community. When ordered to take a drug test days later, Wietecha listed the medications he was on, as required by state regulations.
One of those drugs was testosterone.
The young officer’s use of an anabolic steroid raised a red flag with Peter Stoma, an assistant prosecutor who oversees the internal affairs bureau in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We started an investigation into his use of steroids to verify that they were in fact medically prescribed,” Stoma said.
Colao assured investigators the prescriptions were valid and necessary. At the time, Stoma said, there was no reason to doubt him.
“He was a licensed medical doctor,” the prosecutor said. “There were medical records, and it was the doctor’s opinion Andrew Wietecha was a candidate for hormone replacement therapy.”
Wietecha, suspended after his arrest, never returned to the force. In the early morning hours of Aug. 15, 2006, as he tried to steer his motorcycle around a slow-moving truck on a North Bergen street, he crashed into the back of a car and died.
For two decades, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and a handful of academic experts have urgently warned about the growing use of steroids in law enforcement, calling it a problem that puts both users and the public at risk.
Those warnings have largely been ignored.
“I really believe if it’s not the most commonly abused drug in law enforcement, it’s damn close,” said Larry Gaines, a former executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police and now chairman of the criminal justice department at California State University.
There is no way to determine how many law enforcement officers or firefighters use steroids, a class of substances Harvard Medical School researcher Harrison G. Pope Jr. calls “the most secret of all illicit drugs.”
No agency keeps track of steroid-related suspensions or arrests, and surveys, where they exist, are considered unreliable.
In the absence of hard data, researchers rely on anecdotal evidence. They haven’t had to look very hard to find it.
From New Jersey to California, in departments large and small, scores of law enforcement officers have been arrested, suspended or reassigned to desk duty in just the past few years for buying steroids or growth hormone without a prescription. In some of those cases, officers were selling the substances to colleagues.
Left unanswered is the question of how many officers and firefighters obtain the drugs with the aid of doctors who fabricate diagnoses, as Colao is alleged to have done.
Experts say those transactions, conducted with the veneer of authenticity in private clinics and offices, are almost certainly on the rise, the result of a booming anti-aging movement that hypes hormones as the antidote to aches, wrinkles and sagging bodies.
Random testing for steroids might provide a better understanding of the problem’s scope, but few departments across the country have put screening in place, and unions that represent officers and firefighters generally oppose it.
In New Jersey, law enforcement officials and union leaders said they were not aware of any agencies that randomly test employees for steroids, as they do for cocaine, marijuana and other illicit drugs.
Some chiefs cite the extra expense.
“It’s cost-prohibitive,” said South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka, a vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. “For a large department, the money’s just not there to do these tests.”
In Phoenix, the first big-city force to introduce steroid-testing four years ago, adding a screen for just the most common steroids tripled the price the department paid to test each officer, from $35 to about $100, said Commander Kim Humphrey, one of the policy’s architects.
Gaines and other experts acknowledge the higher cost, but they suspect there’s more to it, contending most police chiefs choose to look the other way.
“They don’t want their people to be on steroids, but they seem to feel they have a public relations obligation not to bring this problem into the open,” said Hoberman, the University of Texas professor. “You show me the police chief who wants it all over the front page that God knows how many of his cops are on steroids.”
Under guidelines issued by the state Attorney General’s Office, department leaders and county prosecutors are authorized to order employees to undergo testing if there is a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use, but the guidelines do not include the word “steroids,” and chiefs appear reluctant to bring such cases.
Over the past decade, departments in New Jersey have taken disciplinary action against officers for steroid use in just a handful of cases. Most cases involved a legal challenge brought by the accused officers or by police unions.DYLAN WILSON / THE JERSEY JOURNAL Police Chief Tom Comey speaks during a press conference in July 2009.
Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey’s efforts to deal with steroid use illustrate the complications. The details are found in legal documents stemming from a suit filed against the chief by seven of his officers.
In February 2008, as the New York Health Department’s investigation into Lowen’s Pharmacy approached its peak, an internal affairs captain with the New York City Police Department contacted Comey to ask for a list of his officers. Up to two dozen members of the NYPD, including a deputy chief, had received steroids or growth hormone from Lowen’s, a development that would lead to random testing there within months.
The captain told Comey he suspected Jersey City officers were customers, too.
Comey turned over the list. He soon learned at least 40 of the department’s 834 officers had filled prescriptions for steroids through Lowen’s and that at least 36 had obtained HGH from the pharmacy.
Within days, Comey ordered an unknown number of officers to provide a urine sample to be tested for elevated levels of testosterone, a hallmark of steroid use.
Comey would not discuss the test results or provide details of the probe. Legal papers show at least 20 officers were relieved of their weapons and placed on modified duty. Of those, most returned to full duty two months later, after undergoing follow-up tests.
One officer, Nicholas Kramer, continued to show a high testosterone level during a retest. He was later declared unfit for duty and served a 159-day suspension without pay. Kramer, now 33, returned to the force in January of last year. He declined comment.
Kramer and six other officers later filed suit against the department and Comey, claiming the chief had violated their constitutional rights.
The plaintiffs included Victor Vargas and Michael Stise, accused of brutality in the federal lawsuit brought by Jersey City resident Mathias Bolton, and Brian McGovern, the officer who had filled 20 prescriptions and who was charged with assault in Point Pleasant Beach last year.
U.S. District Justice Peter G. Sheridan dismissed the officers’ suit this June, ruling police officers, given the sensitive nature of their jobs, have a diminished expectation of privacy and that the public must be protected from those who could be prone to aggression.
“Chief Comey acted quickly to ensure that JCPD officers were not using steroids that would make them dangerous and unfit for duty,” Sheridan wrote in his opinion, adding that the mental health of officers is “of the utmost concern.”
In response to questions from The Star-Ledger, Comey issued a statement calling the internal probe “a difficult situation to deal with” and saying the department was working to develop a policy “to ensure the integrity of the agency moving forward.”
He refused to say if that policy involves testing for steroids.
Jerry DiCicco, president of the Jersey City Police Officers’ Benevolent Association, which represents more than 700 of the department’s officers, said in a statement the union would immediately challenge a steroid-testing policy based on health care privacy laws and constitutionality issues.
He also defended the officers involved, saying they have “outstanding personal records” and that they did nothing inappropriate.Patti Sapone/The Star LedgerJersey City physician Joseph Colao is interred at the mausoleum at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church in Bridgewater. Colao died of hardening of the arteries at age 45 in 2007.
Gladys Nieves believes Joseph Colao saw the end coming. Part of her wonders if he embraced it.
The physician’s chronic heart condition appeared to be worsening. He had failed a stress test in the spring of 2007, but rather than slow down, he continued to work 12- and 14-hour days, often missing lunch. He also sometimes skipped his prescribed doses of Plavix, which helps prevent blood clots that can lead to heart attacks, Nieves said.
Colao’s financial adviser became a frequent visitor to the office. The pair met with Nieves, arranging for her to receive about $7,000 more in benefits. Colao told her he wanted her to be taken care of when he was gone.
“You know I’m going to die soon,” she said he told her.
The walls were closing in professionally as well.
Medicare had conducted a fraud investigation in 2006. Now Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield was demanding to see records. The insurer would later file a $900,000 notice of claim against Colao’s estate, alleging he falsified diagnoses to prescribe growth hormone, a Horizon spokesman said.
Lowen’s Pharmacy, Colao’s chief hormone supplier, was suddenly in the news. New York state health investigators conducted their first raid on Lowen’s in May 2007, and the pharmacy’s records had Colao’s name all over them. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office would soon join the case.
There also was renewed interest from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, which had first made contact with Colao after the arrest of North Bergen police officer Andrew Wietecha following his Ocean County car crash.
Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said an incident involving a second officer in late 2006 again led to Colao. DeFazio would not describe the incident or name the officer, but he said it aroused suspicion.
“One plus one made two,” he said.
Because the matter involved questions of medical judgment beyond the expertise of criminal investigators, DeFazio said, he referred the case to the state Board of Medical Examiners, which licenses and disciplines doctors.
The board opened an investigation into Colao in March 2007, though it did not contact him in the five months before his death, spokesman Jeff Lamm said.
Before confronting Colao, board investigators were trying to determine if the doctor’s voluminous prescriptions for steroids and HGH extended to New Jersey pharmacies, Lamm said.
As the summer of 2007 wore on, the increasing pressure weighed on Colao, Nieves said.
“You could feel the stress in him,” she said. “Things in the office were bad. With all of the hormones, I think he was getting disgusted by it. I think he wanted to go back to the normalcy of it all, his pain patients.”
It was Colao’s fiancée, Bianca Triggiani, who found his body Aug. 8. He’d collapsed in the kitchen. A medical examiner determined the cause of death to be hardening of the arteries.Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-LedgerSgt. Ken Kolich, now a special victims unit detective with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, was assigned to investigate Dr. Joseph Colao’s death in 2007. Kolich, shown in August 2010, expressed concern when he learned police officers were getting steroids from the doctor. Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger
The weeks that followed would be frustrating ones for Ken Kolich, the county homicide investigator.
He had received phone calls from two investigators — one with New York’s Department of Health, the other an assistant attorney general who worked with the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners — alerting him that Colao had been suspected of giving steroids and growth hormone to police officers under false pretenses.
Suddenly, the flood of calls from officers on the day Colao died made sense to Kolich. It also alarmed him.
“The last thing you want out there is cops on steroids,” he said in a recent interview. “They get into a fight and steroid rage takes over.”
Kolich wanted to look deeper into the steroid angle, but his supervisor at the time, Capt. Vincent Doherty, ordered him to stop, the detective said.
“We’re supposed to take care of our own,” Kolich said Doherty told him.
Doherty, who has since retired, denied telling Kolich police officers must be protected. He said he couldn’t remember any specific disagreements about the case, but he said he and Kolich sometimes butted heads about the homicide division’s resources.
“My interest wasn’t in conducting that type of investigation. That’s why they called it the homicide division,” said Doherty, 64. “Whether we should have done some more work, maybe we should have. I don’t know. Whether I put a kibosh to it, maybe I did. I don’t know.”
Every criminal investigation into Colao was now at an end. For the law enforcement officers and firefighters who thronged Colao’s practice, the flow of drugs was cut off.
And the search for a new doctor was on.
Next Stop: High Crest
High Crest Health, lodged in an imposing Georgian-style building in Fairfield, offers the public what it bills as an integrative medical experience.
Clients can choose from chiropractic care, personal training, nutritional counseling, colon hydrotherapy and hormone replacement therapy, among other services.
In the wake of Colao’s death, High Crest became a busy place.
The facility’s former medical director, James Goodnight, and its former hormone educator, Robert Ortiz, estimated 800 of Colao’s patients became new clients there.
A “good majority” of them were law enforcement officers and firefighters, Goodnight said. And almost all of them seemed to want testosterone, stanozolol or growth hormone.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
For decades, anabolic steroids and human growth hormone have been associated primarily with sports, from Olympic scandals to Major League Baseball’s “steroid era.”
“Strong At Any Cost,” a three-part series, shows how deeply the substances have infiltrated law enforcement agencies and fire departments as well, endangering the users and, potentially, the public. Separately, the stories show how easily the substances can be obtained when a doctor chooses to abandon medical protocol, illegally churning out prescriptions based on phony diagnoses.
Reporters Amy Brittain and Mark Mueller spent seven months investigating the issue and the medical practice of the late Joseph Colao, who prescribed steroids or growth hormone to at least 248 New Jersey officers and firefighters.
The Star-Ledger found Colao frequently falsified diagnoses to justify his prescriptions and illegally sold boxes of growth hormone out of his Jersey City office. Medical conditions allowing the drugs to be prescribed legally are uncommon, but it is possible some officers who went to Colao had a legitimate need for them.
The reporters interviewed more than 200 people, including those in Colao’s inner circle — his closest employees, relatives and friends — as well as patients, fellow doctors, police chiefs, local and state officials and nationally recognized experts on steroids and other hormones.
The Star-Ledger also reviewed court cases, regulations governing the substances and Colao’s prescription records from Lowen’s Compounding Pharmacy, a Brooklyn shop through which he directed a significant portion of his hormone business. Lowen’s has since changed hands. The current owners did not return phone calls.
The 248 officers and firefighters were identified through a comparison of the pharmacy’s records and public databases containing the names of every law enforcement officer and firefighter in the state.
The reporters cross-checked birth dates from both sets of data. As a further safeguard, home addresses for the officers and firefighters were matched with addresses to which Lowen’s shipped the drugs.
Because Colao prescribed the substances through pharmacies in New Jersey as well, the number of steroid users in uniform is believed to be substantially higher.
The Star-Ledger attempted to reach every officer and firefighter by phone, e-mail or letter. Fifty-four responded to the inquiries. Of those, about half declined comment outright. Others denied receiving anything from Colao despite records showing shipments from Lowen’s to their homes. A few said they didn’t realize the substances they took were steroids or growth hormone until told by a reporter.
The Star-Ledger named officers and firefighters for a variety of reasons. Some spoke willingly about the drugs and their experiences with Colao. Others filled prescriptions for a combination of testosterone-boosting drugs, putting them at higher risk of steroid side effects such as aggression, confusion and recklessness.
The newspaper also has chosen to identify officers and firefighters who have been arrested, fired or disciplined for bad conduct, along with those named in lawsuits alleging excessive force or civil rights violations.
Finally, the issue can be seen as a matter of public safety.
Courts have repeatedly ruled law enforcement officers have a lower expectation of personal privacy than members of the general public given the nature of their jobs and the fact they are armed.
In one recent case, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought against the Jersey City police chief by seven officers who contended they had been illegally tested for steroids and placed on restricted duty.
“Any drug impairment that affects a police officer’s abilities is a significant concern,” U.S. District Justice Peter G. Sheridan wrote in his June opinion. “Drug abuse of any form affects a person’s abilities and reasoning, and in the case of a police officer it may cause great harm to the public.”
Research has shown steroids affect people in unpredictable ways. Some users can tolerate high doses with few ill effects. Others on low doses can grow irritable, aggressive and prone to so-called “roid rage,” raising questions about judgment and fitness for duty. Several police chiefs and medical experts told The Star-Ledger armed officers and steroids make for a dangerous combination.
In addition, some law enforcement officials said that if officers willingly take part in an illegal scheme of any kind, it could undermine the public trust in the officers involved.
To Goodnight, a plastic surgeon and anti-aging doctor now in private practice, more shocking than the number of patients was the expectation they could use their insurance to pay for HGH, as they said they had done with Colao.
“We told them no flat-out,” Goodnight said. “That’s insurance fraud.”
Goodnight said the patients had been brought to High Crest by Victor Biancamano, Colao’s former office manager. Biancamano worked as a sort of rainmaker at High Crest, drumming up business, Goodnight said.
“People have certain skills,” the physician said. “He’s got connections. He knows people. That’s his skill.”
Biancamano, a former bartender who emerged from personal bankruptcy in 2003, had another connection that would later lead to some discomfort for Goodnight. He recommended the doctor use Lowen’s Pharmacy for his hormone business, Goodnight said. The physician agreed.
“Victor brought up that he had used that pharmacy in the past, and he introduced one of their people to me,” Goodnight said. “I didn’t know anything about them at the time. You don’t want to get involved with a pharmacy that does anything shady. I just wanted good service and good quality prices.”
After authorities raided Lowen’s, Goodnight said, he was questioned by a detective and an assistant district attorney from Brooklyn. He was cleared of wrongdoing and later testified before the grand jury investigating the pharmacy. He left High Crest shortly afterward.
High Crest’s owners, Neelendu and Stephanie Bose, did not return calls for comment.
Goodnight said he still has about 50 law enforcement officers and firefighters in his North Haledon practice, which he calls “Dr. Goodnight’s Center for Everlasting Beauty.”
He is one of at least five hormone specialists identified by The Star-Ledger who continue to treat Colao’s patients.
Roger Lallemand Jr., an orthopedist and anti-aging doctor who has offices in Old Bridge and Asbury Park, treats several hundred uniformed public servants, according to officers and firefighters familiar with his practice.
The others are Bonnie Chen, an internist in Watchung; Henry Balzani, a gynecologist who practices anti-aging medicine in Clifton; and Robert Ortiz, who once worked with Goodnight at High Crest Health.
Ortiz, who holds the title of medical educator at the Active Center for Health and Wellness, with offices in Westwood and Hackensack, is not a physician. He said a doctor on the center’s staff examines his hormone recommendations to patients and makes final decisions about prescriptions.
Lallemand declined to comment. The others said they prescribe hormones only when necessary.
They also downplayed the risk of increased aggression, saying such side effects are extremely rare as long as testosterone supplementation does not exceed physiologic levels, or levels the body has already seen at an earlier age.
Pope, the Harvard Medical School researcher who studies the psychological side effects of steroids, said he agrees aggressive reactions are more likely at higher levels, but he said research has shown bad reactions can result from even modest doses of steroids, such as those found in testosterone creams.
“You cannot predict one way or the other whether someone is going to have one of these reactions,” he said. “If that person is a police officer, they might have an inappropriate reaction.”
in the aftermath
On Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City, it’s as if Colao had never died. Two signs still sit outside his office, announcing his practice. Inside the building, his office and apartment remain locked and undisturbed, frozen in time.
They will stay that way until his fiancée and his ex-wife, Marybeth Colao, the mother of Colao’s 19-year-old son, resolve a bitter fight for control of his estate. Shortly after Colao’s death, the estate was valued at $4.9 million, according to court papers. For all of his last-minute financial planning, Colao died without a legally recognized will.
Marybeth Colao declined to comment about her ex-husband. Triggiani, the fiancée, said she refused to drag Colao’s name “through the mud.”
Those who worked with Colao have moved on to other jobs. Nieves and Lehar work for different medical practices. Leon Colao now serves as office manager for his late brother’s close friend, Stephen Waldman, a pain-management physician in Millburn.
Victor Biancamano, the office manager who left Colao’s practice shortly before his death, went into business last year with Henry Balzani, co-founding Total Life Rejuvenation, the anti-aging clinic in Clifton. Two months ago, Biancamano resigned from the practice to work with a group of anti-aging doctors elsewhere. He declined to name them.
For Kolich, now with the special victims unit of the prosecutor’s office, one final riddle remained. Since the day of Colao’s death, he has wondered how the news spread through the law enforcement grapevine so quickly.
The doctor’s prescription records provide a clue: One of the officers to respond to a 911 call from Colao’s apartment that morning happened to be a steroid patient.
The officer, who had filled a prescription for testosterone through Lowen’s, was soon on the phone, alerting other officers and firefighters.
Kolich said the officer didn’t mention being Colao’s patient, even as they stood over the body of the doctor the cops had called their own.
Staff writer Ted Sherman contributed to this report.Amy Brittain.
Amy Brittain, a Shreveport, La., native, joined The Star-Ledger this summer. A 2009 graduate of Louisiana State University, she was named one of the nation’s top 10 student journalists by the Scripps Howard Foundation. Brittain holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a fellow at the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism from 2009-2010. Contact Amy Brittain: (973) 392-4253 or email@example.comMark Mueller.
Mark Mueller has worked on many investigative and explanatory projects since joining The Star-Ledger in 1999. He also has reported from Iraq and traveled with Pope Benedict XVI. Mueller’s work has been recognized with more than a dozen regional and national awards. In 2005, he was part of the Star-Ledger team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Contact Mark Mueller: (973) 392-5973 or firstname.lastname@example.org