ABINGDON, Va. (WRIC) — A South Carolina man was sentenced to a year in prison last week in a Virginia federal court after he manufactured and sold potentially dangerous steroids and other unlicensed “dietary supplements” through an online store.
John Cochcroft pleaded guilty to one count of manufacturing anabolic steroids, a schedule II controlled substance, and one count of introducing a new drug to interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or deceive.
“Cochcroft and his company placed public health at risk by unlawfully distributing unapproved drugs that have been linked to life-threatening conditions,” U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh said.
According to court documents, which were verified by Cochcroft as part of his plea agreement, Cochcroft began selling “dietary supplements” under the labels “King,” “Kong” and “Black Magic” in February 2016. The so-called supplements were in fact “research chemicals” identified by the FDA as “new drugs” requiring approval before they could be sold to consumers.
Cochcroft never received that approval, and “knowingly took steps to mislead and defraud the Government and consumers in the sale” of the supplements. That involved, in part, mislabeling them as hexadrone, a well-known anabolic steroid.
“Workout supplements containing anabolic steroids and unapproved steroid-like drugs can be dangerous,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton said.
From 2017 to 2021, Cochcroft also sold illegal anabolic steroids, netting at least $500,000 over the four-year period.
A Brazen Scheme
According to an affidavit filed before Cochcroft pleaded guilty, federal agents were on his trail for years — and he knew it.
He sourced some of his raw chemicals from China, which he then prepared in a makeshift laboratory for sale to a distributor. That distributor was identified in emails seized by investigators as “Spring,” and they worked with Cochcroft to conceal the chemicals from customs agents by shoving them in misleading packages.
In multiple emails, Cochcroft told “Spring” that packages he’d ordered from China had been searched or seized by customs agents.
“US customs released this package,” he wrote on January 11, 2018. “This kind of makes me wonder if they are watching me now.”
Emails sent from Cochcroft to “Spring” show that he knew he was under close scrutiny by federal agents. (Photos of affidavit filed in 2021)
In October 2019, agents executed a search warrant on the location of MedfitRX, a front business that had been selling Cochcroft’s chemicals. the company was owned by Brian Parks, who told agents he had been using Cochcroft as a supplier until he could move “in-house.”
In a guilty plea entered in November 2020, Parks admitted that he’d paid $358,000 from 2016 to 2018 for Cochcroft to manufacture the “supplements.”
According to a sentencing report submitted by prosecutors, Cochcroft’s laboratory was far from meeting industry standards. His work space, prosecutors claimed, showed a callous disregard for potential contamination which could harm his end customers.
“The shameful condition of Mr. Cochcroft’s facility is a damning fact this Court should not ignore,” they wrote. “Even if Mr. Cochcroft is correct to cite a 2007 study to support that his products likely went only to weightlifters and fitness consumers … Mr. Cochcroft still allowed his greed to put them at risk of serious injury.”
Photos showing conditions in Cochcroft’s laboratory. (Photos included in prosecutor’s sentencing report)
If Cochcroft objected to these characterizations of his work, it’s now impossible to tell, as a motion to seal his sentencing memorandum was granted by the court.
In their sentencing report, prosecutors requested jail time for Cochcroft, but did not specify the exact term they sought. The government is also seeking forfeiture of $200,000.