October 23, 2012
Steelers' doc indicted in major steroid case
Federal criminal charges have been filed against Richard A. Rydze, a former team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers whose dealings with a Florida compounding pharmacy surfaced five years ago in a steroids investigation based in Albany. Rydze was released on $100,000 bond Monday after being charged in a 185-count indictment unsealed last week in Cleveland, Ohio. The indictment charges Rydze with conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and controlled substances including oxycodone and oxycontin, as well as health care fraud. Court documents don’t indicate whether Rydze supplied drugs to pro athletes. He was a physician for the Steelers for 20 years but was dropped from the team’s roster four months after his connection to the Florida pharmacy was disclosed in a February 2007 Times Union article. Rydze was alleged to have used a personal credit card to purchase large amounts of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone from Orlando’s Signature Compounding Pharmacy. Investigators in Florida discovered Rydze’s orders with Signature by examining invoices discarded in the pharmacy’s garbage. They also obtained Federal Express records that showed deliveries to Rydze from Signature. Federal law enforcement authorities launched an investigation of Rydze in late 2007. Five people who were owners and managers of Signature pharmacy are being prosecuted by the Albany County district attorney’s office. The criminal case has languished due to dismissals by an Albany County judge and repeated appeals. The case is pending before New York’s Court of Appeals. The Times Union reported in 2007 that Rydze, who won a silver medal in platform diving in the 1972 Olympics, told an investigator in the Albany case that the drugs he purchased from Signature pharmacy were for his private patients and not pro football players. Rydze was also an internist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Rydze is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cleveland because of “doctor-patient” relationships he had with people in the western district of Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Rydze also was a consulting physician for the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration in Pittsburgh. Rydze is accused of conspiring with a wellness clinic owner, a pharmacist and a nurse to obtain and prescribe steroids and human growth hormone “to unjustly enrich themselves by causing the distribution of anabolic steroids for unauthorized uses such as body building and athletic performance enhancement,” according to the indictment. The group is alleged to have organized Saturday clinics at a wellness center where Rydze informed customers about the benefits and methods of receiving steroids and growth hormone. The wellness center’s owner, James Hatzimbes, who was a business partner or Rydze’s, also was indicted. The only approved use for human growth hormone is to treat dwarfism. Many doctors, however, prescribe it illegally to patients who believe it has “anti-aging” effects. The indictment states Rydze submitted medical claims to an insurance company showing he diagnosed more than 90 adult patients with pituitary dwarfism. But federal prosecutors said Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicle records indicate “all of the individuals diagnosed by Rydze with pituitary dwarfism are above five feet tall, and at least 40 of the 90 patients are taller than five feet nine inches.” The Pittsburgh pharmacy, ANEWrx, and its owner, William Sandowski, along with a nurse who worked there, John Gavin, are implicated in the conspiracy but have not been charged, according to the indictment. The indictment states Rydze “would frequently and falsely diagnose clients as having pituitary deficiency, hormone imbalance, or adrenal insufficiency, and then typically prescribe” steroids and human growth hormone. The drugs were distributed to customers for anti-aging and athletic performance needs, including bodybuilding, according to the charges. Federal authorities alleged Rydze and Hatzimbes split profits from patients treated at the wellness clinic. In addition, Rydze and Hatzimbes received kickbacks from ANEWrx for prescriptions filled there, according to the indictment. The charges relate to Rydze’s conduct from about 2005 through 2011. The indictment does not mention his dealings with Florida’s Signature pharmacy, and the Orlando pharmacy has not been accused of wrongdoing related to the prescriptions it filled for Rydze. Investigators in the Signature pharmacy case said Rydze’s orders of testosterone piqued their interest because of the large volume, his position with an NFL team and because he had used a personal credit card. The retail value of the drugs allegedly purchased from Signature pharmacy by Rydze was about $750,000, the Times Union reported in 2007.