They called it "the Koi pond Blackberry," a phone Canada Border Services Agency officers claim to have fished out of Jason Mark Eggleston's goldfish tank.
The bodybuilder allegedly threw it there when investigators turned up at his Winnipeg home in November 2012 looking for evidence of anabolic steroid smuggling.
But according to a border agency search warrant, the device still divulged some secrets.
"The phone contained emails, text messages and PIN-to-PIN messages between Jason Eggleston and numerous people across Canada," writes investigator Kevin Varga.
"The most interesting communications related to the organization of the steroid importing and trafficking scheme."
'Much, much bigger'
Those communications allegedly led investigators from bodybuilders to academics — from Nova Scotia to B.C., where four other men charged with producing and trafficking steroids will appear in court later this month.
The investigation provides a window into a lucrative but little-examined black market driven by a strange mixture of narcissism, body-obsession and insecurity.
"The true dimensions of this issue are far larger than many people anticipate, and the rings that are behind this — those schemes themselves are fairly sophisticated," says Dr. Andrew Pipe, a University of Ottawa faculty of medicine professor who serves as team physician for the Canadian men's national basketball and women's soccer teams.
"But it's probably much, much bigger than people suspect."
The border agency says Eggleston, a registered nurse, pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling under the Customs Act in January.
Canadian Juice Monsters
Messages pulled from the "Koi pond Blackberry," and quoted in the search warrant, detail the origins of the scheme.
"I started doing steroids in 2003, and one of the guys who was selling to me … suggested I try getting some cow pellets from the States, and a conversion kit to make my own trenbolone at home (that's a high-powered androgen that is administered to cows several weeks before slaughter to beef them up lol)," Eggleston allegedly wrote.
"So I started making it at home, and because of my science and nursing background had a pretty good knack for it."
Dubbed Project Juice, the case led investigators to Canadian Juice Monsters, an online bodybuilding and steroid discussion forum.
Users compare notes about dosage, effects and results.
On one thread an oilpatch worker asks for help hiding steroids from his company. Another describes unwanted side-effects.
"I was literally walking like Terry Fox with what felt like (and looked like) a full hot water bottle bouncing back in forth in my quad," he writes. "I was legit less than a week away from taking this to the emergency room before it started dissipating. By the height of the issue, the swelling was obvious even in sweats."
Insecure teens vulnerable
The risks of anabolic steroids include damage to the heart and liver as well as the body's naturally functioning ability to produce hormones.
The border agency investigation led to first bodybuilders Eggleston and Greg Austin Doucette, a Halifax man fined $50,000 last year for smuggling and distributing steroids.
Doucette was also handed a 20-month conditional sentence and one year of probation.
Pipe fears a growing market is emerging for steroids among teenage boys.
"Adolescent males generally have a fairly significant amount of body insecurity anyway," he says.
"There's an interest and an appetite in these things, which is further stimulated by imagery in advertising and the availability of these products."
Teens and self-image
Harvard Medical School psychologist Aaron Blashill is studying links between boys, body image and anabolic steroid use. He says teens are using the products to get big and to cut body fat.
He recently published a study which said bullied and depressed boys may be particularly vulnerable.
"The idea that steroids are exclusively a function of athletes, or for that matter professional bodybuilders, is not supported by the empirical data. I think the anabolic steroid use among males is akin to purging behaviours among women," Blashill said in an email to CBC.
"I don't believe the lay, research, or medical communities takes anabolic steroid use seriously enough," he says.
Add to that the judicial community, says Pipe, who has served as an expert witness for the border agency.
"One of their concerns has been that the judiciary is turning — not a blind eye — but a lenient eye to these issues," he says.
Project Juice culminated in the B.C. charges in February under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
One of the accused, Gautam Mohan Srivastava, was the manager of Baseball B.C.'s high-performance division and a scout with the Minnesota Twins.
According to the search warrant, he denied trafficking steroids and claimed someone may be attempting to frame him.
None of the charges against the B.C. accused have been proven in court.
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