Toronto MD charged with giving HGH to NFLer
A Toronto sports doctor who has treated superstar athletes saw his legal woes compounded Tuesday as U.S. authorities followed Canada's lead in criminally charging Dr. Anthony Galea.
Galea, who has treated Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez and other sports stars, has been charged in the U.S. with smuggling, unlawful distribution of human growth hormone and conspiring to lie to federal agents.
The federal criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Buffalo also charges the doctor with introducing the unapproved drug Actovegin into interstate commerce and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
"Today's complaint reveals that those responsible for the flow of illegal drugs into our country can come from all walks of life," said U.S. Attorney William Hochul.
Galea is not authorized to work in the United States, Hochul said, and is accused of repeatedly entering the country from 2007 to 2009 to treat professional athletes from Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the Professional Golfers' Association.
During that time, he billed three football players about $200,000 US, Hochul said.
The U.S. charges come several months after Galea was charged in Canada with four counts relating to Actovegin.
The RCMP allege it was Galea's "intent to treat some of his patients outside Canada with Actovegin."
Galea is charged in Canada with selling an unapproved drug under the Food and Drugs Act, conspiracy to import an unapproved drug and conspiracy to export a drug under the Criminal Code, and smuggling goods into Canada under the Customs Act.
A former doctor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, Galea is known for using a blood-spinning technique — called platelet-rich plasma therapy — designed to speed recovery from injuries.
According to the U.S. court documents, Galea's clients include at least three current or former NFL players. One retired player allegedly had two HGH kits delivered to his home, while another received Actovegin injections.
Galea's Canadian lawyer, Brian Greenspan, called the complaint disappointing but declined to comment on the charges.
"It is regrettable that Dr. Galea, a world renowned and respected sports medicine physician, now faces these further charges," Greenspan said in an email.
If convicted of the U.S. smuggling charge, Galea could face up to 20 years in prison. The other charges carry maximum sentences of three and five years.
The harshest penalty Galea faces in Canada is with the Customs Act charge, under which he faces a maximum of five years in prison.
Greenspan has said Actovegin is used worldwide by numerous specialists in the sports field. He says it's their position that there was nothing unlawful about Galea's use of that substance in Canada, and the charges are without merit.
No athletes are identified by name in the U.S. government's criminal complaint or supporting affidavit, which describes the 50-year-old Galea travelling to various U.S. cities to meet with athletes in hotel rooms and their homes.
The affidavit refers to three unidentified NFL players as witnesses, including one who allegedly received HGH from Galea after his playing days were over. The two other players said that while they were treated by the doctor, they avoided receiving HGH or other performance-enhancing substances banned by the league.
Beside the blood-spinning treatments, Galea administered ultrasounds, intravenous drips and "injections of drug mixtures into the sites of muscle tears," an Immigration and Customs Enforcement affidavit, based on a witness statement, said.
"Dr. Galea would at times inject a cocktail containing HGH into an athlete," the affidavit said.
Actovegin, which contains calf blood, has stirred up controversy over its efficacy and legality.
It has been used in Germany and Italy. It's not on the list of banned substances for the World Anti-Doping Agency, unless it's used by intravenous infusion. Some sports experts who work with athletes even question its performance-enhancing benefits, saying it's more useful to speed recovery from injuries.
A police spokesman has said Health Canada informed officers that the form of the drug allegedly administered and sold to patients in Canada and exported to the U.S. is illegal in Canada.
But in Ontario, where Galea has a practice, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario recommends doctors avoid prescribing drugs not approved for use in Canada, but adds it's not prohibited.
The charges against Galea came after the RCMP raided his Institute of Sports Medicine Health and Wellness Centre on Oct. 15 in Toronto.
Greenspan has said the investigation began when the doctor's assistant, who often drove Galea around, was stopped at the Canada-U.S. border.
Galea's assistant has been charged in the U.S. for having HGH and another drug while crossing the border in September.