Feds: Steelers ex-doc prescribed illegal steroids
PITTSBURGH – A former Pittsburgh Steelers doctor who left the team after investigators questioned his bulk purchase of anabolic steroids has been indicted for illegally prescribing the muscle-building aids and other drugs. Federal authorities don’t list the team or its players as having gotten the substances from Dr. Richard Rydze, who was charged in a 185-count indictment with conspiracy to illegally distribute steroids, human growth hormone and painkillers including oxycodone.The 62-year-old physician also is charged with health care fraud. Authorities said he falsely diagnosed more than 90 patients with pituitary dwarfism so they could receive human growth hormones and drugs meant to counteract the side-effects of steroid use. The FBI contends the patients were normal-sized adults who didn’t need such substances.Rydze and his attorney declined to comment after his initial appearance before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh Friday afternoon. The doctor will remain jailed until Monday, when U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell must decide whether Rydze should stay behind bars until trial.Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Skutnik told Mitchell she will ask for continued detention because Rydze has continued to prescribe drugs “10 to 15 times” in recent weeks despite losing his federal license to do so in July.Public defender Michael Novara told Mitchell he believes Rydze should be freed because the doctor is a “lifelong, law-abiding, well respected member of the community.”Rydze has been under a legal microscope before. Prosecutors in Albany, N.Y., said he was on the customer list of an Orlando, Fla., pharmacy that was raided in February 2007 as part of an interstate steroids ring. Rydze was questioned then about buying $150,000 worth of testosterone and human growth hormone on his credit card in 2006, but was not charged in that investigation.After the Florida raids, Steelers president Dan Rooney issued a statement saying: “There is no evidence that Dr. Rydze prescribed or provided any hormone treatments to any of our players. Dr. Rydze has assured me that this has never happened and will never happen.” Rooney also said then the team would “continue to monitor this situation to make sure that we can continue to feel confident in our medical staff in this area.” The team dropped Rydze from its roster of doctors without explanation in June 2007.Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said Friday he team wouldn’t comment on the charges against Rydze but stands by Rooney’s statements five years ago.Rydze’s patient base was so broad in Pittsburgh that federal authorities took the unusual step of having FBI agents from Ohio investigate, said Michael Tobin, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Cleveland. Prosecutors from Cleveland also will try the case, though that will occur before a federal judge in Pittsburgh, Tobin said.“He was an everybody-in-town-knows-him type of guy,” Tobin said, explaining the decision to use outside investigators.Tobin declined to comment on whether Rydze’s ties to the Steelers played a role in that decision.The indictment doesn’t list the names of any patients, and prosecutors wouldn’t say if Rydze illegally supplied players with steroids or other drugs.“We aren’t saying anything one way or another, and the indictment doesn’t say one way or the other, either,” Tobin said.Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach issued a statement saying Rydze used “his prescription pad like a personal ATM, doling out steroids, painkillers and other medicine for his own gain.” Investigators found Rydze personally received $301,000 in commissions from one pharmacy he worked with and his practice received $146,000.Rydze is charged with conspiring with James Hatzimbes, 42, to distribute steroids and human growth hormone from September 2007 through March 2011. The doctor also is charged with illegally prescribing painkillers to another man, William Zipf, 56, and his relatives during a slightly longer time frame, March 2007 through January of this year.Hatzimbes ran a business called HSE Salon and Wellness Center in Pittsburgh and worked with Rydze to schedule “steroid clinics” every other week at which people were falsely diagnosed with conditions that required steroids and growth hormones. Online records don’t list attorneys for the co-defendants, and the number to Hatzimbes’ spa was disconnected Friday.Hatzimbes is also one of the people Rydze allegedly diagnosed with dwarfism. The FBI said Hatzimbes actually is 6 feet tall.