DEA: Kiel arrest linked to codeine diversion

By Brent Schrotenboer and Onell R. Soto
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
12:09 p.m. September 27, 2006

SAN DIEGO – The investigation that led to the arrest Tuesday of San Diego Chargers safety Terrence Kiel targeted his role in the diversion of codeine-based cough syrup, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Authorities said Kiel, 25, was arrested on two charges of transporting a controlled substance and three charges of possession for sale of a controlled substance based on his having shipped at least two parcels containing the substance to his native Texas.

The DEA said in a statement released Wednesday that Kiel admitted to shipping the two parcels and to knowing their contents.

Kiel did not comment on the motive behind the shipments. But the DEA noted widespread abuse of codeine-based cough syrup in Texas, mixed with soft drinks and referred to as “lean.” A pint bottle can cost between $200-$325 per bottle on the street, according to the DEA.

Kiel grew up in Lufkin and played at Texas A&M.

The DEA is investigating where Kiel got the cough syrup, who else may be involved and the intent.

Two federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said quart bottles full of what appears to be prescription cough syrup were found at Kiel's house. Both officials said Kiel admitted to financial difficulties when interviewed by agents.

Kiel first drew attention after FedEx officials here opened a package he shipped June 2 and found 15 pint bottles of codeine-based cough syrup, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in San Diego Superior Court.

But FedEx officials didn't tell agents who work on intercepting drugs shipped out of San Diego until Aug. 1 because of their “busy schedule,” a DEA agent said in the affidavit.

People who use the shipping service must allow their packages to be opened for inspection.

The package also contained a airline boarding pass with the name of a woman who lives with Kiel, the DEA agent said.

FedEx workers told the DEA agents that the package was shipped by a man who looked like Kiel, a frequent customer.

A FedEx manager called the San Diego Narcotics Task Force last Thursday after Kiel shipped another package, and DEA agents took custody of it.

Kiel paid cash to ship the package and used a fake return address and name, according to the affidavit.

When agents opened the package they discovered three pint bottles of the cough syrup with codeine, which is a controlled substance.

If convicted of possession and transportation of a controlled substance, Kiel could face up to five years in state prison, a prosecutor for the District Attorney's office said.

First-time offenders without a criminal record in cough-syrup cases are typically sentenced to probation with some local jail time, said prosecutor Damon Mosler.
Kiel is scheduled to be arraigned in San Diego Superior Court Tuesday, according to a court clerk.

In its court filing, the DEA said that Kiel was arrested in Texas on charges of aggravated assault on a public servant, theft and evading arrest. It's unclear whether he was prosecuted or when the arrest occurred.

Kiel is making $500,000 this year, his fourth with the Chargers.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said Kiel would be paid even though he will miss Sunday's game at Baltimore.

“He's been informed to stay home and take care of personal business,” Smith said, adding that Kiel is due back with the team on Monday.

“I'm really not interested at this point in commenting on anything about the matter,” coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

Clinton Hart, who will start in Kiel's spot, said the defensive backs met Wednesday morning.

“We have to regroup and make that fist a little bit tighter. Kiel's still our boy and we're supporting him 100 percent,” Hart said. “We're going to go out there and win this game with him on our backs.”

“How unfortunate, once again, that a professional athlete makes a choice which detracts from his talent and ability, drawing attention instead to poor decision making,” DEA Special Agent in Charge John S. Fernandes said in a statement. “Actions like those of Mr. Kiel simply add fuel to the already raging fire of prescription drug abuse in our country.”

The DEA noted that “doctor shopping,” forged prescriptions and pharmacy theft are the most common methods of procuring controlled substances by those with no true medical need.

“We're aware of an off-the-field situation involving Terrence Kiel and we're monitoring the situation,” the Chargers said in a statement Tuesday. “Due to the personal nature of the ongoing legal investigation, the Chargers are withholding further comment until the matter is resolved legally.”

Kiel's agent, Vann McElroy, said he couldn't comment on specifics of the case.

“Terrence is a good kid. We just have to wait and see,” McElroy said.

Fernandes said the two shipments Kiel admitted to sending to Texas each contained prescription cough syrup that had been repackaged in pint-sized water bottles.

On Tuesday, Kiel was called off the practice field after authorities arrived at Chargers headquarters. Kiel was taken into the locker room, detained and read his rights, Fernandes said. His locker wasn't searched, but authorities searched his car, then took him to his house to execute a search warrant.

Fernandes said codeine-based cough syrup can be used to enhance, mitigate or temper other drugs, including cocaine and PCP.

“It goes right to the heart of what really is fueling an already out-of-control, raging fire of abuse of pharmaceutical drugs,” Fernandes said.