NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pete Rose Jr., the son of baseball's all-time hits leader, pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he distributed GBL, a drug sometimes sold as a steroid alternative, to his minor-league teammates.
The 35-year-old Rose appeared before a federal judge and said nothing but "yes, sir" when asked if he understood the charges and his plea.
Rose could be sentenced to 21 to 24 months in federal prison and fined up to $1 million under terms of his deal with prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul O'Brien said. Rose is free on his own recognizance until the Feb. 20 sentencing hearing.
"This is a tragedy. Anyone who knows this young man knows he is a very, very fine young man," Rose's attorney, Jeffrey Brodey, said outside the federal courthouse. "The use of this stuff is common. It's used as a sleep aid by many people in sports. It was
legal. And he got caught in a time warp because it was legal up until 2000. He came forward and immediately confessed and accepted his responsibility."
Brodey and Rose refused to answer questions from reporters before driving away in a sport utility vehicle.
The Drug Enforcement Administration said Rose's arrest was part of a larger investigation into a major GBL trafficking organization. Rose surrendered to authorities shortly before he entered his guilty plea.
The indictment said Rose admitted he received GBL from a person in Tennessee while a member of the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
He also said he supplied half the players on that team with the drug. Rose said his teammates would take GBL to "wind down" after games, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.
Lookouts assistant general manager John Maedel said Rose was on the Chattanooga roster in 1997, 2001 and 2002, and the team is aware of the story.
"We don't know anything about it and can't comment," he said.
Reds spokesman Rob Butcher added: "We do not comment on active law enforcement investigations."
According to evidence presented to Judge Robert Echols, Rose began purchasing GBL in July 2001, receiving about five cases from July 2001 to May 2002. Rose told investigators he was using it as a sleep aid because he had been having trouble with some knee injuries. Rose also admitted to selling the drug.
GBL, or gamma butyrolactone, is sold under the counter at retailers and gyms with claims to build muscle, improve physical performance, enhance sex, reduce stress and induce sleep. When taken orally, GBL is converted to the "date-rape" drug GHB, or
"It's really more of a recreational drug that people use to give them a high, take the edge off," said Dr. Todd R. Schlifstein, a sports rehab physician at New York University
Medical Center's Rusk Institute. "People who use steroids use this drug as well. A lot of times power lifters, weight lifters will use it."
Schlifstein said the drug can have dramatic side effects, including seizures and death.
O'Brien said GBL products were legal and sold in health food stores until they were banned in 2000. The chemical was used as an industrial solvent and was "never intended for human consumption," he said.
Rose Jr. has not been involved with the Reds organization since playing nine games in the minors in 2002.
Rose played most of his career in the minor leagues but made it to the majors for 11 games with the Reds in 1997. Last season he played for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.
Pete Rose Sr. holds the major-league record of 4,256 hits. He agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 following an investigation that he bet on games; after 14 years of denying it, he admitted in his autobiography that he bet on Reds games while managing them in the late 1980s.
Rose Sr. served a five-month sentence in federal prison in 1990 and 1991 for filing false tax returns by not declaring income he received from signing autographs, memorabilia sales and gambling.
The GBL investigation began in 1999 and has included one of the largest seizures of GBL in U.S. history.
DEA agents seized about 280 gallons of GBL from a storage unit in Murfreesboro in January 2004. Further investigation revealed that Murfreesboro resident Bruce Michael Wayne was a nationwide distributor of the drug.
The DEA learned Wayne was supplying Rose Jr. with the drug and that Rose was distributing it to teammates, Payne said.
Wayne was arrested by DEA agents in January 2004 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute GBL and money laundering charges. But Wayne failed to appear for sentencing and is a fugitive.
O'Brien said the nationwide investigation began when several people became ill after using GBL products purchased in health food stores in Detroit.
A search of Wayne's belongings revealed thousands of invoices, including some for Rose, O'Brien said.
Authorities said Rose would order the drugs through an associate, who would then get them from Wayne.
To date, the investigation has resulted in charges against 18 other people and seizure of more than $1.2 million in drug proceeds, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.