A Shelton resident is among eight people who have been arrested for their alleged involvement in a steroid and prescription narcotic distribution operation in Connecticut.

Mark Bertanza, 33, of Shelton, was charged by the federal government with conspiracy to distribute steroids, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $500,000. He has been released on bond.

Bertanza’s arrest was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation dubbed “Operation Juice Box.”

The arrests culminated a long-term investigation into steroid and prescription pill distribution by multiple individuals, including a Newtown police sergeant, a Newtown police dispatcher and a Connecticut judicial marshal, according to a May 4 release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut.


‘A serious offense’


The investigation, with included the use of wire and electronic surveillance for nearly two months, also revealed that members of the conspiracy allegedly imported steroids from China, stated the release.

“The international importation and sale of mass quantities of steroids in our communities is a serious offense that raises significant public health concerns,” said Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut.

Daly said the work of officers and agents “have identified and arrested the source of these steroids, thus preventing further harm to the community.”

According to Patricia M. Ferrick, FBI special agent in charge: “When law enforcement officers are involved in criminal activity, it brings a particular sense of urgency to the investigation.”


The eight who were arrested


The following individuals were arrested on a federal complaint charging them with conspiracy to distribute, and distribution of, various controlled substances including steroids and oxycodone:

— Mark Bertanza, 33, of Shelton.

— Jason Chickos, 46, of Bridgeport, a civilian dispatcher with the Newtown Police Department.

— Steven Fernandes, 54, of Southington.

— Jeffrey Gentile, 33, of Ansonia, a judicial marshal with the state of Connecticut.

— Alex Kenyhercz, 28, of Ansonia.

— Michael D. Mase, 32, of Sherman.

— Frank Pecora, 53, of Derby.

— Steven Santucci, 38, of Waterbury, a sergeant with the Newtown Police Department.


Feds: How the network operated


As alleged in the government’s complaint affidavit, which was unsealed in federal court on April 30, Bertanza was a steroid distributor who obtained his steroids from Kenyhercz.

Wiretap interceptions over cellular telephones used by Bertanza and Kenyhercz, along with physical surveillance of various steroid sales, allegedly revealed that Santucci was supplying steroids to Kenyhercz.

Through the investigation, agents learned that Santucci has been receiving shipments of steroids and related materials from China since 2011 and has been manufacturing and distributing wholesale quantities of steroids, according to federal prosecutors.

Santucci frequently used an application called WhatsApp to communicate with his customers, prosecutors said.


Roxicodone, oxycodone, suboxone


Chickos, Mase and Fernandes were Santucci’s steroid customers who, in turn, regularly distributed the steroids in smaller quantities to their own customers, federal officials allege.

According to prosecutors, Kenyhercz distributed quantities of steroids and prescription pills (including Roxicodone, Oxycodone, Suboxone and Opana), Gentile was a steroid distributor, and Pecora was a prescription pill distributor.

During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers seized hundreds of vials of steroids, approximately 600 grams of raw testosterone powder, about 350 grams of powder cocaine, and four long guns.


The specific charges


Bertanza, Chickos, Fernandes, Gentile, Mase and Santucci are charged with conspiracy to distribute steroids, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $500,000.

Kenyhercz and Pecora and are charged with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million.

“DEA and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners are committed to investigating steroid trafficking organizations,” said Michael J. Ferguson, DEA special agent in charge.

“We follow these investigations wherever they lead us — and in this case to a police officer,” Ferguson said. “Wearing a shield does not give you a free pass to peddle this poison in our neighborhoods or to our families.”


An ongoing investigation


The ongoing investigation is a collaborative effort involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations unit, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Newtown Police Department as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut.

This case is being prosecuted by Asst. U.S. Attorneys Rahul Kale and Robert M. Spector of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut.