Authorities Conclude Anti-Steroid Sweep EMBARGOED for broadcast until Midnight EDT; Time set by source

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Law enforcement officials, flexing new weapons against the sale of anabolic steroids as body-building drugs, arrested more than a dozen people on Monday in Arizona, the Drug Enforcement Administration said.

The arrests in the greater Phoenix area concluded a sweep begun there last week and raised the total number booked to 31, officials said.

The operation occurred about a week after former football star Lyle Alzado publicly blamed steroid use for his inoperable brain cancer, and it represented the first major enforcement action since trafficking and possession of steroids were subjected to tougher federal penalities in February.

In addition to the arrests, authorities seized four businesses - three gyms frequented by body builders and a liquor store - more than $95,000 in cash, two dozen firearms, four vehicles and thousands of steroid pills, said DEA spokesman John Albano in Phoenix. Ten homes as well as the businesses were searched, he said.

The alleged steroid sales were primarily to people who work out at local gyms and health clubs, he said. Much of the distribution was done by people who also use the drugs and who would buy for themselves and their friends to bulk up and gain a competitive edge despite the medical risks.

''There were some real hulksters'' among those arrested, Albano said, but he said he knew of no resistance by any of those taken into custody.

The Phoenix Police Department learned of the problem when a local woman complained in March that her teen-age son had been offered steroids, Albano said. The police and the DEA then began an undercover investigation, he said.

''We have eight individual cases stemming from this one investigation,'' he said.

Two ''principal subjects'' of the investigation were arrested Monday, Albano said. He identified them as Thomas Ruffino, 37, owner of a seized gym, and Robert Clapp, whose age and occupation were not immediately available.

''Clearly, we have a problem with abuse of anabolic steroids in our country, and much of that is centered around athletes and body-builders, and regrettably some adolescents who are trying to improve their physical appearance,'' DEA Administrator Robert C. Bonner said Monday.

Bonner stressed that steroids now carry two dangers: legal and health.

''I think it's cases like the one that's being brought in Phoenix that are going to help put out the message that there are some very severe federal penalties for individuals who possess or sell anabolic steroids,'' Bonner said as he headed to Arizona for a news conference Tuesday.

The Anabolic Steroid Control Act raised the maximum penalty for trafficking and illegal dispensing of anabolic steroids to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. It also says possession of even small quantities of the drug for uses not validly prescribed by a doctor is a federal crime punishable by a maximum of one year in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine.

Anabolic steroids are used legitimately to treat medical problems such as osteoporosis and anemia.

Steroids recently made headlines when Alzado, who played for 14 years for three National Football League teams, blamed steroids for ruining his immune system that led to a rare brain lymphoma that was diagnosed in April.

Alzado said he went public to encourage students to ''do without this stuff.''

Known health risks from steroids include severe acne, baldness, temporary sterility, abnormal liver function, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.