A Canadian doctor's assistant whose arrest at the border raised suspicions about the doctor's treatment of pro football and baseball players pleaded guilty Thursday as part of a deal that makes her a key witness against her former boss in exchange for the chance to avoid prison.
Mary Anne Catalano, 32, admitted to a single count of lying to border agents, telling the judge she'd had a "lapse of judgment" when she agreed to bring medical equipment and vials of drugs, including human growth hormone, into the United States for Dr. Anthony Galea to use on athletes.
"He was my employer, someone I'd known since I was 15 years old," said Catalano, who acknowledged making more than 20 trips for the Toronto doctor knowing he was not licensed to practice in the U.S.
She told investigators that Galea, who'd had trouble getting the items across the border himself, had instructed her to lie to border officers and say the supplies were for a conference, according to the plea agreement. That is what she initially told agents at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo after being pulled over for a secondary inspection last September, prosecutors said.
"In the end," Catalano told U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara through tears, "I didn't think he was someone who would put me in this position."
The Toronto-area woman's co-operation in the months since her arrest already has led to a host of U.S. and Canadian charges against Galea, whose high-profile clients include Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez and several NFL players.
"She stayed down here for days without benefit of counsel. It was pretty extraordinary what she did," said her attorney, Rodney Personius, who said she has made several additional trips to meet with investigators since then.
A U.S. criminal complaint filed last month charged Galea with conspiracy, smuggling, unlawful distribution of human growth hormone and introducing the unapproved drug Actovegin into interstate commerce. The charges are similar to those filed by Canadian authorities in October.
Doctor accused of injecting HGH into athletes
Court filings describe Galea making multiple trips to meet with professional athletes in New York City, Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and other U.S. cities from July through September of last year and injecting at least seven with human growth hormone, a substance banned by major sports.
The filings do not identify any athletes by name.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said the investigation against Galea is continuing. The Mets' Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are among athletes who have said they've been contacted by federal investigators about the doctor, who denies any wrongdoing.
"At this point, people that have indicated — whether they be athletes or others — that they want to co-operate with the government or who have provided truthful information to the government are considered witnesses and not targets," Hochul said Thursday.
Galea's Buffalo attorney, Mark Mahoney, was in the courtroom for Catalano's hearing but declined to comment afterward on either the plea or the government's case against the doctor.
Galea's Canadian lawyer Brian Greenspan has said in the past that Actovegin is used worldwide by numerous specialists in the sports field. He argued it's their position that there was nothing unlawful about Galea's use of that substance in Canada, and the charges are without merit.
Catalano has not spoken with Galea since her arrest, her attorney, Calvin Barry, said.
As part of the plea agreement, the government agreed to recommend a sentence of zero to six months in prison in exchange for Catalano's continued co-operation with investigators, which could include testifying before a grand jury or at a trial. Prosecutors also agreed to drop a more serious smuggling charge, which could have sent her to prison for up to 20 years if convicted.
Catalano, who is free on $10,000 US bail, declined to comment following the hearing. She is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 14.