A Canadian doctor who treated Tiger Woods and other big-name athletes wrote to a judge Thursday he never intended for what began as a few trips to see American patients to turn into a long-running practice and a criminal record for bringing unapproved drugs across the border.
A day before his sentencing in federal court in Buffalo, Anthony Galea of Toronto told the judge in a letter he finds it inconceivable he could make such poor choices.
"I wish that I could undo the mistakes of the past," wrote Galea, who pleaded guilty in July to bringing into the U.S. unapproved and mislabelled drugs to treat professional football and baseball players and other athletes. He could receive 12 to 18 months in prison.
An October 2010 indictment said Galea, who wasn't licensed to practise in the U.S., made more than 100 trips to numerous American cities from 2007 to 2009 to treat more than 20 patients in their homes, hotels and friends' houses. Some received injections of human growth hormone, banned by major sports, and Actovegin, a derivative of calf's blood not approved for use in the United States, prosecutors said.
The indictment didn't identify any athletes by name. Woods' and Galea's lawyer have said the golfer was treated by Galea but didn't receive performance-enhancing drugs.
"I never imagined nor intended that what began as a few informal attempts to accommodate my patients would result in multiple attendances over an extended period of time to address their concerns," wrote Galea, the former team doctor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. "My lack of lack of candour and my failure to scrupulously adhere to the rules was a failure for which I have no excuse but which at the time I wrongly rationalized."
As part of his plea, prosecutors dismissed several charges against him but required his co-operation with investigators examining his treatment of patients.
Galea's letter was one of 122 character letters written to a U.S. District judge from medical professionals, former patients and friends.
Former NHL tough guy Tie Domi credited Galea with diagnosing and treating his then-11-year-old son Max's fractured hip after other doctors could find nothing wrong.
"I was known as a tough hockey player myself and didn't want my son to be one of those soft kids who complain about pain, so I told him to toughen up," wrote Domi. "But eventually, we brought him to see Dr. Galea, who detected the fracture.
"As a father I never felt so bad! But if not for Dr. Galea, my son likely would never have been diagnosed and fixed."
Now 16, Max Domi is in his first season with the OHL's London Knights.
Other supporters of Galea include Donald Hunter Morrison, chief operating officer of Research in Motion, developer of the BlackBerry, who wrote that Galea treated him for a hamstring injury two years ago, shortening his recovery time from months to three weeks.
"However, most impactful, were the long conversations that Dr. Galea and I had," Morrison wrote. "In certain specific instances we discussed how Dr. Galea would mentor young professional athletes [eg., NFL players] by hosting them in convents and monasteries in the Middle East in the interest of teaching and reinforcing values of integrity and humility precisely at a time in their lives when new wealth and fame were entering their lives."
Galea was charged in both the U.S. and Canada following the 2009 arrest of his assistant, Mary Anne Catalano, while entering Buffalo from Canada at the Peace Bridge. Catalano avoided jail after pleading guilty to lying to border agents about the medical supplies she was transporting for Galea.
She said her boss had instructed her to say they were for a medical conference when they were really for treatment of a professional athlete in Washington, D.C.
Galea, in his letter, said he will always be ashamed for putting Catalano through the ordeal. Although he didn't believe she was at risk by bringing in medicines that he used, he said, "no amount of good intentions on my part could justify or excuse asking that she be deceitful about the true purpose of entering the United States."
In a lengthy pre-sentence filing, Galea's lawyers said the doctor had been "publicly ridiculed" for the past two years, saw his teaching privileges at the University of Toronto suspended and was removed from every organization board he had volunteered to serve on, "a cogent symbol of public disgrace."
His arrest also resulted in his removal from the Canadian Academy of Sports Physicians and letters circulated by the NHL, NBA and MLB instructing players not to be treated by him.
The Canadian charges against Galea are pending.