The Piledriver Report 03.08.13 The History Of Vince McMahon’s Wrestling Empire: Part Eight
Posted by Ronny Sarnecky on 03.08.2013
This week’s “Piledriver Report” takes a look back at the beginnings of the Vince McMahon Steroid Trial.
On November 18th, 1993, Vince McMahon was indicted for possession and conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids.
The case against Vince McMahon actually started in 1989 when the federal government was building a case to lock up Dr. George Zahorian for steroid distribution. Dr. George Zahorian was a physician appointed by the Pennsylvania state athletic commission to attend WWF shows in Hamburg, PA and Allentown, PA. Dr. Zahorian wasn't just a doctor, he was a wrestling fan. Like a rock-n-roll groupie, he wanted to be close to those he worshipped. To get close to the wrestlers, he would supply them with the drugs of their choice. According to "The Wrestling Observer" newsletter, Dr. Zahorian started to distribute steroids to the wrestlers in 1981, when the WWF was owned by Vince McMahon Sr., Gorilla Monsoon, and Phil Zacko under the Capitol Sports corporate umbrella. While Zahorian wasn't the only doctor that would provide steroids to wrestlers, he would become the most famous. The doctor's side business helped to almost bring down Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation's sports entertainment empire.
In 1988, Congress started toughening the federal drug law. More narcotics cases began flowing into the federal courts. One of the new laws that he was charged with enforcing was the 1988 measure that criminalized the distribution of anabolic steroids. At the same time, drugs such as Tylenol 4 and Valium were added to the Food and Drug Administration's list of controlled substances.
According to Shaun Assael's book "SEX, LIES, AND HEADLOCKS: THE REAL STORY OF VINCE MCMAHON AND THE WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION," in October 1989, federal prosecutor Theodore Smith III was listening to audio tapes of a set up drug deal with Dr. George Zahorian. The prosecutor felt he had an extremely good case against the doctor. Ted Smith, in conjunction with FBI investigators began to build a case against Dr. Zahorian.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation subpoenaed all of the records from Dr. Zahorian's Federal Express account. These records showed that the doctor sent numerous shipments to Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and several other wrestlers who worked under the World Wrestling Federation banner. While most of these packages were sent to hotels in the cities that the wrestlers were performing in, many other packages were shipped to the WWF's head office in Stamford, Connecticut.
In the government's case against Dr. Zahorian, Theodore Smith III subpoenaed several wrestlers to testify in front of a grand jury. On March 27th, 1990, Dr. Geore Zahorian was indicted on fifteen counts of the distribution of controlled substances, including steroids. Zahorian's indictment caused the front office in the WWF's Titan Towers to be very concerned. Vince McMahon took his supply of steroids and needles that he kept in his office, and threw them out.
Luckily for the WWF, the names of the testifying wrestlers were being withheld. Also, the trial was below the radar of the national media. Very few media outlets were covering the trial. The names of Dr. Zahorain's patients were given "John Doe" names. However, the night before Dr. Zahorian's trial, the doctor's attorney told reporters that two of the patients were Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. He then went on to say, "The use of steroids isn't limited to these wrestlers. They're used throughout the WWF. Wrestlers either use them or they don't participate." The attorney issued this statement to portray the doctor as a figure who was just trying to help famous athletes compete in their job. The attorney's small statement caused this little trial to be turned into a national story overnight. The front page of the USA Today newspaper ran the headline of "Hulk: Bulk from a Bottle?"
Vince McMahon wanted his lawyer to get Hulk Hogan out of testifying in the Zahorian case. Jerry McDevitt argued that the federal prosecutor didn't need Hogan to testify in order to prove his case. McDevitt explained that Hogan's name only appeared on the Fed Ex logs six times. He said that there would be huge damage done to the World Wrestling Federation by having the prosecution unnecessarily single out Hulk Hogan. The judge, William Caldwell, agreed, and dismissed Hogan's name from the list of people who would have to testify at the Zahorian trial.
To try to clean up the negative publicity that the Zahorian trial was giving the WWF, and Hulk Hogan in particular, Jerry McDevitt released the following statement: "Hulk Hogan did nothing illegal and is not charged with any illegality," it said. "He has no place in this trial, and will not appear there. Instead the focal point of the trial will now return to its proper place, the alleged illegal activities of a physician."
The trail started on June 24th. The jury received the case at 1:30pm the following day. In three hours, the jury reached a verdict. Dr. Zahorian was found guilty of the first count of illegally distributing steroids, and then was found guilty on eleven more counts.
With Dr. Zahorian in jail, the federal government set their sights on trying to convict Vince McMahon on two charges of steroid distribution and one count of conspiracy. In July 1994, McMahon found himself in a Long Island courthouse trying to prove that he was not guilty on all counts.
MCMAHON GOES ON TRIAL
The prosecution's star witness was thought to be Dr. Zahorian. If the government was thinking that he would help prove McMahon's guilt, they were highly mistaken. Zahorian testified that Vince and many high ranking WWF officials knew that he was selling steroids to the WWF's wrestlers. Zahorian asked McMahon if Vince wanted him to stop. Zahorian explained to Vince that if he were to be barred, the wrestlers would get their steroids through harmful black market drug dealers. According to his testimony, Vince allowed him to continue with his "business" inside the WWF's locker room. He also testified that Vince McMahon purchased steroids for himself, as did Chief Jay Strongbow and Arnold Skaaland (each for their own sons). The prosecution tried to use that part of the testimony as proof of a conspiracy between Titan Sports and Vince McMahon.
The prosecution asked Zahorian about if he sent steroids to Vince on October 24, 1989. The doctor said that he wasn't sure. This was a key question in the prosecutions attempt to prove that McMahon was distributing steroids. The prosecution had a record of a bank check written in the amount of $538.00 on October 28th, 1989. The government was trying to prove that Vince was distributing steroids from this shipment to Hulk Hogan.
The lawyers admitted that Vince and several high ranking WWF officials knew that Zahorian was the "steroid" doctor. Since Zahorian told Vince that by allowing him to sell steroids instead of having the wrestlers go through the "black market dealers," he convinced McMahon that the WWF's owner was "protecting the wrestlers' health due to the dangers of injecting unknown quantities into ones system than from steroids."
The defense also tried to show the jury that Zahorian was receiving better treatment in prison in exchange for his testimony against McMahon. Zahorian told the court that the prosecution made no promises to him, and that his request to transfer to a work stockyard have been denied on several occasions. Vince's attorneys were able to prove that his prison conditions did slightly improve after he testified in front of the grand jury in April 1994. Jerry McDevitt, along with Laura Brevetti (Vince's attorneys), tried to argue that an $80,000.00 profit on the sale of his condo/office complex, which the government seized in Zahorian's trial, was a payoff as half of the money went to Zahorian's wife. This accusation was proved to be false, because Zahorian's wife, who knew nothing about her husband's secret business, owned half of the property. Therefore she was entitled to half of the money.
Zahorian testified that he grew up as a professional wrestling fan. He admitted to serving as the state appointed ringside physician at the WWF's television tapings at the Allentown Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania in the early eighties. He swore, under oath, that he distributed steroids, along with valium, Halcions, and Tylenol III and IV to professional wrestlers from 1981 until 1989. At first the only steroid he sold was decadurabolin. As time wore on, he distributed other different types of steroids as well. His steroid business peaked from 1985-1987 as more wrestlers started to get on the juice. He stated that his business started to decrease in 1989 when word got around that he was being investigated by the feds.
When asked by the prosecution regarding the people that he sold to, Zahorian responded that he sold 98-99% of his steroids to wrestlers and people in the WWF offices. Jerry McDevitt tried to prove that Zahorian lied regarding the percentage. After McDevitt mentioned the names of several Zahorian customers who were not WWF performers, Zahorian said that 80-90% of his business were made up of WWF employees, whereas the remaining percantages were made up of former WWF wrestlers, a college strength coach, an NFL football player, and a friend of pro wrestler "Dr.D" David Schultz.
Zahorian went into detail regarding how he ran his steroid operation. When the WWF came to Allentown, he would set up shop in a makeshift locker room. He said that the wrestlers would walk into the room, and he would hand them brown paper bags filled with steroids or the drug of their choice. He admitted that commission officials were there many times while he was distributing the steroids. However, WWF officials were never in the room.
In testimony that helped the defense, Dr. Zahorian said that he sold steroids to Arnold Skaaland and Chief Jay Strongbow to give to their sons. Jerry McDevitt used this information as evidence to the WWF did not push people if they used steroids. The defense brought up the fact that Arnold's son, George, was a jobber. A jobber didn't help sell tickets or merchandise. Thus, Titan Sports and Vince McMahon could not be guilty of a conspiracy.
At this point, Zahorian testified about when he asked Vince if he should stop selling steroids to the boys. Zahorian told the court that he had another conversation with McMahon and a few with McMahon's assistant at the time, Emily Feinberg. These talks occurred about a half a year after his initial conversation with Vince. Despite not having a doctor/patient relationship with Vince, the conversations revolved around sending steroids to the office.
Zahorian claimed that the first time he sent McMahon steroids he sent enough for one cycle. The cycle consisted of 12 vials of decadurabolin, a couple of bottels of testosterone, and a few bottles of HGH. Zahorian testified that Feinberg would call him up to order steroids and say whether they were for Vince of Terry Bolla (Hulk Hogan). Zahorian stated that one package consisted of enough steroids for seven or eight cycles to Titan Towers. This was an important admission from Zahorian, because one could assume that a steroid package of that size could be used for distribution.
In early 1989, the Pennsylvania state government no longer deamed it necessary for the state athletic commission to over see professional wrestling events. Since the commission was no longer attending the events, Dr. Zahorian's business appeared to be closing. However, Zahorian received calls from Pat Patterson and Arnold Skaaland telling him that they would still like him to attend their events. In testimony, Zahorian said that he received another call from Patterson several months later. Patterson told him to call him back on a pay phone. Pat Patterson told him about the government's investigation regarding Zahorian and the WWF. He said that Patterson told him that Vince wanted him to destroy all of the records that he had in regards to the wrestlers. He mentioned that the investigation was minor, and once it was over, they can continue their relationship. Zahorian said that he did not destroy the documents. Instead, he moved them to a storage facility. When the government raided his office, he had the files moved to his attorney's office. During the raid, Zahorian was in the process of mailing packages to Roddy Piper and Mike Rotundo. The package that was being sent to Piper included steroids and anti-flammatory drugs.
In cross examination, the defense tried to focus on Zahorian's character, and how he previously lied in testimony during his trial and perjured himself with his testimony with the grand jury in this case. When admitting that he did perjure himself at his own trial, he said that he was confused with the dates while discussing this case with the grand jury. He said that after being able to think of the events he was now able to remember the dates more clearly. The defense tried to harp on the accusation that the prosecution offered special treatment to Zahorian in exchange for testimony.
Zahorian remembered being called by Terry Bollea, who said that "Zeus" (Tiny Lister) needed three or four bottles of testosterone. Bollea told Zahorian to send the package to Vince McMahon in Atlanta, where they were filming the movie "No Holds Barred." The defense was trying to show that if anyone was guilty of distribution, it was Hulk Hogan, and not Vince McMahon.
Zahorian admitted that the WWF never paid him for distributing steroids. He said that he did not split the money that he made from his steroid sales with Titan Sports. He mention that no offer was made by either side about splitting the profits in exchange for being allowed to run his steroid distribution business in the WWF's locker room.
Zahorian told the court that no one could tell what drugs or steroids the wrestlers purchased, as they were in brown paper bags. He said that he was never questioned about what he was doing with the wrestlers by the arena staff or the state athletic commission.
Zahorian said that when he first worked in the WWWF, in 1977, Ken Patera, Ivan Putski, and "Superstar" Billy Graham were all using steroids. He mentioned that McMahon, Blackjack Lanza, Arnold Skaaland, and the other WWF agents were never in the room when he was doing "business." He also stated the three owners of Capital Sports (the WWWF's parent company), Vince McMahon Sr., Gorilla Monsoon, and Phil Zacko never encouraged him to sell steroids to the wrestlers.
In a positive announcement for the defense, Zahorian admitted that he would not be able to remember was items were in a specific Fed Ex package that he mailed out in the past. McMahon admitted that Vince had nothing to do with him selling steroids to Ken Patera, David Schultz, or Schultz's friend. He also told the court that he never told his wife about his steroid business, and he kept all of the money for himself.
Zahorian said that he talked to Patterson, Skaaland, and Feinberg after Pennsylvania deregulated wrestling in the state about still working the WWF shows. He told the court that Anita Scales, who worked for Titan Sports in relations to the state athletic commissions. She wanted to stop using Zahorian. However, Pat Patterson told her to still use him. Linda McMahon then backed Patterson's decision. Since Zahorian never talked to Vince McMahon about continuing to work the shows, the defense was trying to show that there was no conspiracy between Titan Sports and Vince McMahon. Zahorian said that he didn't know the steroid law changed on November 18, 1988. The new law stated that doctors can no longer distribute steroids for non-medical reasons. Zahorian never told anyone at Titan Sports about the change in the law, because he didn't know about it.
To show that the WWF didn't push wrestlers based on steroid usage, McDevitt read off a list of several names to Zahorian and asked which wrestlers were on the juice. Nikolai Volkoff- "I believe so." Raymond Rougeau- "I'm not certain." Butch Miller- "Possibly." King Kong Bundy- "I don't believe so. He was extremely large, and had diabetes." Sgt. Slaughter- "No." George Steele- "No." Bob Backlund- "No." The prosecution dropped the ball in regards to this point of questioning. While an unsuspecting jury may hear all of the names that went along with the "no" answers and being led to believe that you didn't need to be on steroids to be a star in the WWF, they were not told the whole story. In regards to Slaughter, he was a major star with name recognition from the days before wrestling's steroid craze. George Steele was over 50 years old, and his gimmick was not dependent on how big he was. He, like Slaughter was a "name" before the steroid craze of the eighties. While Bob Backlund was the company's champion for six years, he held the strap before the steroid phenomenon and left the WWF before the craze hit its peak. The other wrestlers that were mentioned by McDevitt were basically mid-card wrestlers who were not being relied on by the WWF as their money makers. In his testimony, Zahorian did state that Randy Savage bought steroids from him.
In a key piece of testimony by Zahorian, he said that he never talked to the WWF officials regarding the FDA's steroid regulations. He admitted that the two did not worked together to defraud the FDA. He also admitted that he continued to sell steroids to former WWF wrestlers, and that Patterson's phone call warning him of the fedral government's investigation did not stop him from continuing to sell steroids.
Zahorian admitted that not all of the packages contained steroids. He said that he sent one shipment which contained Rogaine for Gene Okerlund. Along with the steroids, he also sent needles with his steroid shipments because he didn't want the wrestlers to share needles. He claimed that most of the orders from Feinberg were steroid orders placed for Hulk Hogan. He also received calls directly from Hogan who was placing orders for his friend, Dan Brower. Hogan placed orders for himself, and paid for the himself. While Vince never called Zahorian to place orders for Hogan, the doctor mentioned there were several times when Hogan called to place orders for McMahon. Zahorian said that he started to send Hogan HCG to help increase his sperm count. He also sent packages to Dan Brower on April 12th, 1989 and June 25th, 1989. The April date was important to the case, because the prosecution was claiming that Vince distributed steroids to Hogan on April 13th, 1989. He said Brower's packages contained steroids, HCG, and syringes.
After several days of testimony, Dr George Zahorian was let off of the stand. Next up were several wrestlers that were set to testify. Read all about the wrestlers' testimony in the next "Piledriver Report."
***The facts for this article were taken out of excerpts from past issues of "The Wrestling Observer" newsletter.****