IT WAS 2008 and Walter Reynolds was bankrupt.
On his last roll of the dice, the 63-year-old gym enthusiast decided to get into the ''supplements'' business, selling performance-enhancing peptides, steroids and other restricted substances from an office tucked away in a Castle Hill business park.
Before long, business was booming and Mr Reynolds, with the help of his Uzbekistan-born wife, Nailia Zinatoulina, and a former Mr Australia champion bodybuilder, Colin Murphie, was earning up to $30,000 a week through his company Emortal Essence.
The late Aziz "Zyzz" Shavershian, left, and his brother Said Sergeyevich Shavershian.
He would later tell police he and his wife ran 17 bank accounts and distributed hundreds of peptides, steroids and other restricted drugs each week. But they did not know NSW police were watching.
Between February and June 2011, an undercover officer bought steroids and peptides from Mr Reynolds eight times, according to court papers.
The investigation into the nationwide supply ring was handed to the NSW and Australian crime commissions, which soon after launched the biggest probe yet into peptide and performance-enhancing drug use in Australian sport.
Mr Murphie gave the officer bodybuilding advice and Ms Zinatoulina facilitated the payments and postage of items, and gave him a ''price list'' of 46 restricted or prohibited substances ranging in price from $10 to $1800.
On July 14, 2011, officers arrested the pair and some customers, including a Hells Angel bikie, Maurice Jolicouer, 28, and Said Sergeyevich Shavershian, known in underground bodybuilding circles as Chestbrah and the brother of the late pin-up boy Aziz "Zyzz" Shavershian.
Shavershian, who was arrested in his Fitness First uniform with five vials of steroids on the front seat of his car, told officers he had been using them for six years because he was a ''very image-conscious guy'', a statement of facts tendered to Parramatta Local Court revealed.
Strike Force Observer, set up to investigate drug supply by bikie gang members in the Hills district, had smashed an extensive network supplying athletes, bikies, bodybuilders and gym employees in four states.
Among Mr Reynolds's clientele was Stephen Dank, the former Essendon sports scientist at the centre of the investigation.
It is understood Mr Dank attended the clinic in 2010 to buy AOD9604, an anti-obesity peptide and a variant of growth hormone that has fat-burning properties. The ACC report says the drug ''may be used by athletes to increase power-to-weight ratios by better utilisation of fat stores'' but notes it is not prohibited by the World Anti-doping Agency.
Mr Dank is believed to be the common link among the six rugby league clubs and one AFL club implicated in the investigation. He later opened an anti-ageing clinic in Bondi that sold peptides. He did not return calls on Monday.
Senior police are unaware if Strike Force Observer was the catalyst for the ACC's year-long investigation. The commission declined to comment.
The results of Project Aperio have reverberated around the nation, with authorities revealing that performance-enhancing drugs have infiltrated elite sports ''facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff''.
Officers intercepted hundreds of shipments from Mr Reynolds's office including one to a fitness company in Perth that had ordered 143 restricted items in one email.
Police seized $28,000 cash and raided two storage units owned by Mr Reynolds and his partner where another $45,000 cash and 2000 items of steroids, peptides and other ''restricted substances'' were found.
Mr Reynolds and Ms Zinatoulina were given a 12-month suspended sentence and a 12-month good behaviour bond respectively.
Mr Reynolds said it was ''all in the past now''. He works for his son's strip-show business and owes thousands in unpaid rent according to his former landlord.
with Lisa Davies and Chris Barrett