By JOE DANBORN and JEB SCHRENK
A sergeant in the Mobile County Sheriff's Department has been placed on paid administrative leave amid a federal probe involving shipments of anabolic steroids, controlled substances that can be illegal to possess without a valid prescription.
Grant Chambless was removed from duty Dec. 22, a day after U.S. Postal Service inspectors found a package addressed to him containing suspected steroids, according to federal affidavits attached to a pair of search warrants in the case.
Sheriff Jack Tillman told the Mobile County Personnel Board that Chambless would be suspended for 30 days pending the outcome of an internal investigation, according to documents provided by the Sheriff's Department.
Chambless, a Semmes resident, could not be reached for comment. The Mobile Register was unable to confirm whether he has hired a lawyer. No charges have been filed in the case.
A Sheriff's Department spokesman and U.S. Postal Inspector Mike Willis of Mobile both referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office, where officials declined to comment, citing Justice Department policy against discussing ongoing investigations.
Tillman last month asked the Personnel Board for a six-month extension of probation for Chambless for conduct unbecoming an employee, according to documents the Sheriff's Department provided. It was unclear what that conduct entailed or how long Chambless had been on probation.
According to federal court documents, postal inspectors in Mobile received a search warrant Dec. 20 to open a package addressed to a man named Blayne Gardner of Wilmer, with a return address in San Antonio. One affidavit describes the city as a source for steroids produced in Mexico and eventually mailed to buyers elsewhere in the United States.
The box sent to Gardner contained 10 bottles of a clear liquid that investigators believe were steroids, the affidavit states.
Reached Wednesday evening, Gardner had no comment other than to say he had been told not to talk about the case.
After opening the box addressed to Gardner, investigators placed it back in his P.O. Box at the Semmes post office Dec. 20, and it was gone the following day, prompting postal inspectors to set up surveillance, the affidavit states.
On Dec. 21, a similar package addressed to Chambless arrived at the post office, and the inspectors got a search warrant to open it as well, the documents state. Investigators believe both packages came from an apparently bogus company listing a vacant house in a residential neighborhood of San Antonio.
The 2-pound, 11-ounce box sent to Chambless contained four bottles believed to contain Winstrol Depot, two suspected of being Trenbolon and two more of what was thought to be testosterone cypionate, along with a liquid dropper, documents filed with the search warrant state. All three are well-known steroids often legally prescribed by doctors treating terminally ill patients, according to Gus Rethwisch, president of the World Association of Bench and Dead Lifters, a Minnesota-based weightlifting group in which Chambless has participated.
"Those are pretty common, not designer stuff," Rethwisch said. "These are the old standbys. They've been around for years."
The association tests a small percentage of its participants for such drugs, but only the most competitive, he said. There is no record of Chambless having passed or failed such a test, Rethwisch said.
"His lifting is not that good, to be honest with you," Rethwisch said, perusing Chambless' marks.
On Dec. 22, postal employees delivered the box to Chambless' house on Sky Vista Drive West off Howells Ferry Road and Snow Road, the second affidavit states. They then served a search warrant for the property. Among the items listed in the four-page search warrant return were the package from San Antonio -- found in a shed behind the house -- and:
Chambless' county-issued, .40-caliber Glock pistol and three full 15-round clips, as well as his badge and the key to his patrol car;
Six other pistols, three shotguns, two rifles and a stun gun;
Credit card, bank and cell phone statements and a notebook;
Chambless' computer, which federal paperwork notes that he surrendered voluntarily.
Chambless has been a law enforcement officer in the area since at least 1992, when he was with the Mobile Police Department. He earned accolades in 1995 when he helped run down a bank robber.
In 2001, after joining the Sheriff's Department, Chambless was promoted to corporal. He earned an official commendation in 2002 and the combat cross for heroism while engaged in personal combat with an armed adversary in 2003.
Chambless was placed on administrative leave for a week in March of this year after shooting a man who pointed a gun at him following a high-speed chase through south Mobile County, according to reports. The man was not killed, and departmental investigators ruled the shooting justified