A Shot Reputation

Pharmacist in eye of cops/steroids storm is found shot to death only days before he was to speak to investigators

A well-known pharmacist gets involved with shady characters who force him to transform his neighborhood drugstore into an illegal steroid factory that becomes part of a major scandal involving NYPD cops. Then, when the heat is on and the pharmacist agrees to talk, he ends up dead of a gunshot wound. Unfortunately for Bay Ridge pharmacist John Rossi, this may have been the movie of his life.

How much Rossi was part of the burgeoning scandal revolving around Lowen's Pharmacy could be difficult to determine. Employees found him shot to death in his store office on January 28. The death has been ruled a suicide.

Rossi, shaken by the scandal that enveloped his pharmacy ["Cops on Steroids," December 19–25], had been scheduled to talk to authorities for the first time on February 6, according to people close to the investigation.

It appears that he shot himself twice. Authorities say that Rossi stuffed small wads of paper towels into his ears, then placed a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun gripped in his right hand to the left side of his chest, near his nipple, and pulled the trigger. The bullet passed through his pectoral muscle and out his armpit; it was only a flesh wound. He then put the gun to the right side of his head and fired again, authorities say.

The 56-year-old Rossi was the listed owner of Lowen's, where he had worked for the past four decades. His partner in the business, according to law-enforcement sources, is B-movie producer Julius "Jules" Nasso, who'd served time in federal prison for scheming with Gambino mobsters to extort actor Steven Seagal. For months, Lowen's has been the focal point of a steroid and HGH probe by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office that involves at least 27 New York City cops who received prescriptions for the drugs. In addition to Rossi and Nasso, the probe focuses on Rossi's son-in-law and pharmacy vice president, Edward Letendre; Dr. Richard Lucente, who has written more than 2,000 steroid prescriptions filled at Lowen's; and two co-owners of a fitness gym in Staten Island.

Rossi spent Sunday, January 27, at a hospital, celebrating the birth of a grandson. The next day, he went to work. His attorney, Richard Signorelli, says he spoke with Rossi that morning and they discussed the case. Signorelli says that Rossi maintained, as he had throughout the probe, an attitude of being "stoic and resolved to fight this case and clear his name." Signorelli adds, "I had no sign that anything like this was going to happen."

Employees at Lowen's told authorities that they saw Rossi leave the store around 5 p.m. No one recalled seeing him re-enter the pharmacy, but shortly before 7 p.m., his wife called and told employees that she was concerned, because she'd called Rossi's cell phone three times between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. and he hadn't answered.

Pharmacist Dan Meadows sent a deliveryman up to the office on the second floor to see if Rossi was there. The door was locked, so the deliveryman retrieved the keys from Meadows and returned upstairs. When he opened the office door, he saw Rossi sprawled on the floor, dead. No one in the store had heard any gunshots.

On the desk was a note to his wife: "Dear Justine: I love you. Please forgive me." The note was signed formally, with his first and last names. That was odd enough to cause investigators to check it against Rossi's handwriting, but it appeared to match, sources say.

Also on the desk was an empty bottle that had an expired prescription for Valium, next to a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch.

Rossi had no criminal record and, at worst, according to one law-enforcement source, would have faced a heavy fine and perhaps probation. But he hadn't even started talking to investigators, so it's unknown how much cooperation he was willing to give or exactly what he knew.

He already had taken a severe hit to his carefully nurtured reputation as a family pharmacist. Signorelli says that each new article about his pharmacy and its supposed link to the steroid ring stung him. Neighbors say he had recently been talking retirement.

Following a major October raid, Rossi wrote two letters published in the local Bay Ridge edition of the Brooklyn Eagle, in which he defended himself and the pharmacy by saying that his suppliers had sent unlicensed substances to the store. "Lowen's and its pharmacists and employees have done nothing improper," he wrote. He taped the letters to the front window of the store.

"My family is my life," one of the letters says. "Lowen's staff is part of my family and will be always."

 
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