Mailboxes and fake IDs at heart of alleged B.C. steroid smuggling ring
Four Lower Mainland residents charged after lengthy investigation on both sides of the border
The investigation began with a routine stop at an Abbotsford, B.C., border crossing in February 2015.
A female driver had two boxes stamped with Greek lettering in the trunk of her 1999 Audi where border agents allegedly found 190 vials of human growth hormone.
More than four years later, that woman — Nicole Kathleen Crowder — is one of four Lower Mainland residents charged in connection with what the Canada Border Services Agency claims is a vast steroid smuggling network.
A search warrant obtained by the CBC details a painstaking investigation in both Canada and the United States involving seizures, surveillance and examination of financial transactions.
The result is a picture of what the CBSA claims is a ring fuelling the underground market for illegal hormones that increase muscle mass.
"This network is smuggling anabolic steroids and other import-controlled substances into Canada using a variety of fictitious names and mailbox locations within the Lower Mainland which they have rented," says information sworn to obtain the search warrant — written by CBSA investigator Tania Royer.
"In addition, a few of the individuals forming part of this network have been intercepted at land border crossings and airports smuggling anabolic steroids and other import-controlled substances."
'Police officers, fire fighters, bouncers and soldiers'
Nicole Kathleen Crowder, Duane Barry Loewen, Daniel Anderson Crowder and alleged associate Kevin Lee Britton are all facing charges of smuggling and trafficking under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The Crowders are brother and sister and Loewen is Nicole Kathleen Crowder's partner.
Crowders and Britton also face a criminal charge in relation to false identity documents.
The charges were sworn in February with no publicity. All four had a court appearance last week. Lawyers for the accused declined to comment on the case.
The dangers of using anabolic steroids are well documented. For men they include breast growth, impotence, sterility and premature balding. For women they include growth of facial hair, irregular menstruation and birth defects in children.
And yet the CBSA has continued to intercept a constant stream of anabolic steroids from Eastern Europe and China as their use proliferates among bodybuilders, teenage boys and in the oil patch.
The Canadian military even put out a "performance enhancers facts and bottom line" information sheet pointing out that "Canadian Forces members are not exempt" from laws against manufacturing, importing or exporting steroids.
"People employed in occupations where physical fitness and size are important to success are more likely to resort to using anabolic steroids," the fact sheet says.
"These occupations would include professional athletes, police officers, fire fighters, bouncers and soldiers."
According to the search warrant, Nicole Kathleen Crowder allegedly had two California drivers licenses and two cellphones when she was stopped at the border.
The pictures in the licenses "closely resemble(d)" Crowder but they were in different names.
A border officer searched her phone for the letters HGH — for human growth hormone — and came up with a number of items, the warrant says.
The next month, the CBSA also did a forensic examination of Crowder's phone.
The names of several people who were under investigation for steroid smuggling came up — including the three other accused.
Investigators launched an operation called Project Trajectory in the summer of 2015 after intercepting two packages of suspected steroids from a sender in Bellingham, Wash.
The same person had allegedly made numerous shipments in the past to two rented mailboxes in Canada, the bulk of which appeared to be addressed to fictitious people.
But the rental agreements were allegedly connected to Daniel Crowder.
'Man, I gotta change my address'
Investigators claim the steroids were usually declared as innocuous products such as beauty creams, glitter tubes and craft supplies.
In October 2018, the CBSA intercepted a package containing 5,100 tablets of one steroid and replaced it with foam.
A surveillance team then allegedly watched Daniel Anderson Crowder pick it up.
"[An investigator] overheard Daniel Crowder say, 'Man, I gotta change my address again."
According to the warrant, investigators believe that members of the network were ordering steroids from countries like Greece and China for pickup in the United States.
They then allegedly travelled across the border to pick up the parcels, relabel them and ship them off again to Canada.
U.S. agents arrested Britton in March 2016 shortly after he allegedly picked up four packages from a shipping centre outside Seattle.
"Britton stated that he picks up the packages at the mailbox, takes the product out, repacks it in new boxes and sends them to addresses in Canada," the warrant says.
"Britton stated that when he comes back to Canada, he meets with 'Danny' and gets reimbursed and paid $500."
The search warrant also claims that the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) had received suspicious transaction reports related to both Crowders and Britton.
The next appearance in the case is set for July 15.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.