Steroid ring arrests close two area gyms

Bill Brodin does not know what he’s going to do now that his gym has closed.
“I drive a bus, I push papers all day,” Brodin said. “I need this place to come stretch my legs out.”
Brodin said that he had been a regular at Powerhouse Gym on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Flushing since it opened.
The gym closed on Friday, September 7 when Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, joined by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, announced the filing of criminal charges against two dozen individuals - including the ninth-ranked junior lightweight female boxer in the world and her husband/trainer - after an 18-month investigation turned up rampant steroid use at both Powerhouse and the Envy Us Gym, located at 126-19 20th Avenue in College Point.
“Far from being healthy environments for the body and the mind, the gyms were allegedly turned into drug supermarkets by many of the defendants who openly and illegally sold performance drugs wanted by body builders, as well as a cornucopia of highly addictive and potentially dangerous prescription painkillers and street drugs, in and around the two locations,” said Brown.
Following “Operation Dumbbell,” both facilities were shuttered and padlocked, leaving some members confused and upset.
One man who refused to give his name showed up on Wednesday morning, September 12 and didn’t know why the gym was closed. He said he was disappointed that he could not get in his workout, and was worried that Powerhouse was going to stay closed for a while and he was going to lose months of his membership.
A note on the door from owners Dennis and James claimed that it was the action of one employee and a few members, who will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The note further stated that the gym would reopen on Tuesday, September 11, although it was still closed on that date, and that members would receive a one-month free membership.
According to the DA, the investigation began in March 2006 when the NYPD’s Queens Narcotic Division began to make a number of undercover narcotic buys - more than sixty separate purchases of steroids, cocaine and prescription narcotics in total - and conduct extensive physical surveillance at both facilities.
In addition, search warrants were obtained for the gyms and the homes of the defendants.
At the College Point home of Gregory Kovar and Grace Labartino, police allegedly discovered a makeshift steroid lab and recovered torches, a centrifuge, syringes and gallon bottles containing liquid steroids.
Kovar is charged with second- and fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance. If convicted, he faces up to ten years in prison. Labartino is charged with first-degree conspiracy to commit a sale of a controlled substance and fifth-degree attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance. If convicted, she faces up to eight and one-half years to 25 years in prison.
Envy Us manager and trainer Jordan Maldonado, 41, of Woodhaven, star of the movie “Bounce: Behind the Velvet Rope,” and his wife, ninth-ranked junior lightweight boxer Cindy (Checkmate) Serrano, were arrested.
She may face nine years in prison; he is charged with second- third- and fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and fourth-degree grand larceny. If convicted, he faces up to ten years in jail.
Former police officer Benigno Mercado, 40, is charged with second- and fourth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and faces up to 10 years behind bars.
In all, police recovered more than an ounce of cocaine, a .357 revolver, a shotgun, approximately 50 Oxycontin pills, numerous boxes containing steroids in both liquid and powder form, and nearly $40,000 in cash as a result of the search warrants.
Other defendants include Gerald Alvarez, 26, of Flushing; Bryan Benini, 43, of Lindenhurst; Vikki Comer, 22, of Bayside; Alex DiPietrantonio, 24, of Whitestone; Robert Gheorghita, 33, of Flushing; Mario Godoy, 34, of Bayside; Dmitri Katakalides, 25, of Malba; Charles Kubelka, 31, of Whitestone; Vincent Labartino, 41, of Whitestone (brother of Grace Labartino and brother-in-law of Gregory Kovar); James Lana, 43, of Bayside; Victor Maria, 42, of College Point; Michael Minutillo, 42, of Bayside; Matthew Moody, 34, of Fresh Meadows; Jessica Mosca, 31, also of Fresh Meadows; Giancarlo Ruocco, 17, of Bayside; Michael Riccobono, 28, of Bayside; Christopher Rodriguez, 30, of Fresh Meadows; Amanda Serrano, 19, (sister of boxer Cindy Serrano); and Alessandro Vozzolo, 53, owner of the Pace Barber Shop at 40-02 Bell Boulevard in Bayside.

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