Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, July 04, 2005

Agents probing hormone shipment

07/03/2005 05:07:31 AM

Agents probing hormone shipment
400 vials seized
By Alicia Caldwell and Bill Briggs
Denver Post Staff Writers

Agents with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Postal Inspection Service are investigating a shipment of human growth hormone worth up to $400,000 to the home of a Denver substance-abuse counselor, records show.

Authorities in March seized 400 vials of Chinese hGH and are investigating clinic owner Tamea Rae Sisco and two people involved in a Hawaiian osteopathic center on suspicion that they illegally imported the drugs for use in anti-aging treatments, according to a federal search- warrant affidavit and federal sources.

Sisco denies any wrongdoing and said she was an intermediary for a legitimate shipment. No charges have been brought as a result of the raid.

While the national debate on performance-enhancing drugs swirls around sports superstars, federal agents are waging a local battle away from the limelight. They're intercepting hGH doses meant for everyday people who are hoping to look younger and leaner. It's all part of a surging anti-aging phenomenon in which hGH is king.

Law enforcement officials step in when hGH is illegally pitched as a youth elixir. HGH can be legally prescribed only under narrow circumstances, including the treatment of AIDS wasting disease. HGH also is obtained illegally by some athletes seeking to build muscle and cut fat.

"I can't comment on ongoing investigations, but I can state that there is a problem in general," said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Colorado. "The illegal trafficking of human growth hormones remains a concern of the Justice Department."

The investigation is in its infancy, said federal law enforcement sources who still are threading together the intended use and eventual buyers for the 400 vials.

But federal agents suspect Sisco's house was "being used as a location to receive, store and distribute unapproved new drugs, misbranded drugs, and/or human growth hormone illegally introduced into the United States," according to a search- warrant affidavit filed by U.S. Food and Drug Administration special agent Russell Hermann.

Ties to steroid dealer

Agents also are exploring possible ties between the March shipment and Albert Celio, a now-disbarred doctor who supplied steroids and hGH to a local fitness club, according to federal court records.

The operation, which spanned 1999 and 2000, was described in federal records at the time as being the largest steroid-dealing ring in Denver. Investigative documents in that case list sales to a variety of customers, including Denver police officers.

Celio was sentenced Friday to 27 months in federal prison for prescription fraud - one of four cohorts convicted on various charges.

Celio declined to be interviewed for this story.

Now, federal investigators are probing the association between Celio and Sisco. A search-warrant affidavit said Celio co- owned a home with Sisco in 2001. And during the March 18 raid on Sisco's house, agents found a piece of mail addressed to him.

Sisco acknowledges once employing Celio at her clinic, Excel Treatment Program. In 2002, a federal prosecutor called his work at Excel "highly inappropriate" given the drug charges he faced. Sisco said she fired him after learning about the charges.

"We don't even want to be associated with him," Sisco said in an interview. "We treat people to not be affiliated with substance rather than be affiliated with it."

The hGH investigation began March 11 when customs and border protection officers working at the San Francisco international mail facility intercepted two packages from Hefei, China.

The parcels, labeled as mineral samples, were bound for Sisco's home in Aurora and addressed to Teresa Denney, an osteopath who works in Hawaii.

Twenty-three minutes after Sisco accepted the shipment, agents raided her home and seized the vials. On the street, one vial of hGH can sell for as much as $1,000, police say.

At least seven packages originating from overseas had been delivered to Sisco's home in the six months prior to the raid, a postal employee told federal authorities. Only 1 percent to 3 percent of inbound foreign packages are physically examined by customs and border agents, federal authorities say.

The Internet is littered with websites pushing hGH as the new wonder drug for an over-40 crowd seeking a lean, cut physique with little dieting or exercise. Some claim human growth hormone will restore lost hair or banish gray hair, enhance the immune system and even boost sexual performance.

Denney's Honolulu-based clinic offers growth hormone through its website,, which compares the drug to a "fountain of youth" and promises results in "as early as one week."

Denney did not return three phone messages left at her clinic in Honolulu.

Looking for links

When federal agents searched Sisco's house in March, they sought any information linking Denney, Sisco, Celio and Keith Skinner, a Hawaii man who once was married to Sisco and had business ties with Celio, court records show.

Skinner's truck, which contained two other boxes from Hefei, China, plus an array of pills and capsules, was parked in Sisco's driveway on the morning of the search.

In an interview, Sisco said the hGH was ordered from China by Denney, a friend, for use in anti- aging treatments on Denney's patients on "the East Coast." Sisco said her role was to keep the hGH chilled before repackaging it and sending the drug east.

"That was legitimate, with that package. They (the federal agents) just didn't know what it was for," said Sisco, also a licensed chiropractor.

Skinner, a former Colorado chiropractor, could not be reached for comment.

Last month, a Denver District Court judge entered a $2.3 million judgment in a medical malpractice case against a business with which Skinner was affiliated, records show. Front Range Management Group, which was doing business as Cellular Medicine Institute, "deceptively represented" Skinner as a licensed physician, according to a judge's order awarding damages.