BUFFALO, N.Y. — A Canadian sports doctor whose high-profile clients have included Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to bringing into the United States unapproved drugs, including human growth hormone, that were used to treat professional athletes.
Dr. Anthony Galea, a healing specialist from Toronto who was sought out by the biggest names in sports, was indicted by a federal grand jury in October on charges that he smuggled human growth hormone and other substances into the United States and lied to border agents to avoid getting caught. He faces similar charges in Canada.
Most of the U.S. charges were dismissed with Galea’s plea, and he agreed to co-operate with investigators and disclose the identities of his patients and their treatments.
Galea, who wasn’t licensed to work in the United States, was accused of treating 20 professional athletes at their homes, hotels and friends’ houses from October 2007 to September 2009.
The indictment did not identify any clients, but prosecutors said they included golfers, professional baseball and football players and others.
Galea, 51, pleaded guilty in front of U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara to introducing mislabeled drugs into the U.S., eliminating the need for a trial — along with the likelihood that evidence and witness statements could publicly reveal information about who he visited or billed.
Prosecutors said Galea billed around $800,000 for his work in the United States and the value of the drugs and other substances used was about $30,000 to $70,000.
Galea, who’s married with seven children, agreed to forfeit $275,000 before sentencing Oct. 19.
He was released until sentencing, at which he could get up to two years in prison.
The doctor, who has a vocal cord disorder, answered the judge politely in a croaking voice and said he wouldn’t appeal.
Woods, who recently announced he would skip the British Open next week because of “minor injuries” that haven’t fully healed, has said he’s been treated by Galea but didn’t receive performance-enhancing drugs. The New York Mets’ Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran also have acknowledged talking to federal authorities during the investigation.
Rodriguez, the New York Yankees’ star slugger, told Major League Baseball officials that he didn’t receive performance-enhancing drugs from Galea after the doctor told The Associated Press he had prescribed anti-inflammatories for him.
The judge asked about other athletes linked to Galea. Prosecutors said all their names would have come out at trial but they included NFL linebacker Takeo Spikes and retired running back Jamal Lewis, who were treated by Galea but weren’t accused of any use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Representatives for Spikes and Lewis didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
Prosecutors alleged some athletes received injections of HGH, banned by major sports, and Actovegin, a derivative of calf’s blood not approved for use in the United States. They also said some athletes were given intravenous Actovegin drips and platelet-rich plasma therapy, a treatment used to speed healing that involves extracting blood from patients and re-injecting just the plasma.
Galea was widely known for using platelet-rich plasma therapy. He became the focus of Canadian and U.S. authorities’ attention in September 2009, when his assistant, Mary Anne Catalano, was stopped at the border in Buffalo with a small quantity of human growth hormone, Actovegin and vials of foreign homeopathic drugs.
Catalano is scheduled to be sentenced later this month after pleading guilty to a count of lying to border agents. As part of her plea, she’s been co-operating in the investigation.
The U.S. criminal complaint charged Galea with conspiracy, smuggling, distributing human growth hormone and introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce.
U.S. charges of smuggling, conspiring to lie to federal agents and defraud the U.S. government and distributing HGH were dismissed with Galea’s plea.
In October 2009, Canadian authorities charged Galea, the former team doctor of the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, with selling Actovegin, conspiracy to import an unapproved drug, conspiracy to export a drug and smuggling.
Galea was accused of making multiple trips to U.S. cities from 2007 to 2009 to meet with athletes from Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the Professional Golfers’ Association and injecting at least seven with a drug mixture containing human growth hormone, which stimulates growth and is used to aid recovery from injuries.
He was accused of injecting at least one NFL player with Actovegin and providing a retired player with human growth hormone after his playing days had ended. He billed three football players about $200,000, prosecutors said.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul, after court, said prosecutors agreed to the plea deal for Galea because it was “a certain conviction” that would save taxpayers money and make the doctor “a convicted felon.”
Prosecutors said they would recommend a sentence of 12 to 18 months in prison for him.
Defence attorney Brian Greenspan, who represents Galea in the Canadian case, stressed that his client pleaded guilty in New York to a charge involving improperly branded substances, which could include those with foreign labels. He said Woods, who recently has been blighted by personal problems and injuries, was not treated with HGH or any other illegal substances.