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(Tribune News Service) —A U.S. Naval Intelligence software engineer who was making and distributing illegal steroids from his Laurel home has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland announced Wednesday.

Justin Ryan Best, 46, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, said Erek L. Barron, Maryland’s U.S. Attorney. Barron announced the guilty plea along with agents from Homeland Security Investigations Baltimore and the Baltimore field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Best ran an illegal steroid manufacturing business from his home from 2013 through April and conspired with others to distribute homemade steroids throughout the United States, according to his guilty plea.

At the same time, he worked full time as a software engineer and contractor for the Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence, earning $140,000 a year. The drug trafficking operations generated an additional $100,000 a year, Best told officers.

Investigators were tipped off in March to a suspicious parcel that was shipped from a sender in China to Best’s home in Laurel. Two shipments from the same sender had previously been seized and contained equipment to illegally press pharmaceutical pills. Investigators intercepted the parcel and discovered pill press components hidden inside bubble wrap.

Law enforcement officials obtained a search warrant for Best’s home, where they found and seized 8,500 units of controlled substances, many in pill form, used in making steroids, as well as syringes and packaging materials.

Officials recovered about 167 firearms, including handguns, rifles, shotguns and silencers as well as hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition and firearm accessories. Best told officials he bought the firearms with proceeds of his controlled substance operation. Also seized were precious metals, collectible coins and more than $6,000 in cash.

Best told law enforcement officers that he had been making and distributing steroids for about a decade, buying raw materials from sellers in China using cash or Bitcoin. He said he mixed and manufactured vials of steroids, which he sold on an encrypted messaging application and shipped to customers by mail.

The case was prosecuted with the help of a task force that targets the increasingly common use of darknet marketplaces and digital currencies to carry out criminal activities such as the illegal sale of narcotics and firearms and computer hacking.

Best faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison followed by up to three years of supervised release. U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis scheduled sentencing for Feb. 18.

The Dark Market and Digital Currency Crimes Task Force is a joint effort between the U.S. Attorney’s office in Baltimore and federal agencies that include the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

The Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore County Police Department also are members of the task force.

©2021 Baltimore Sun.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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