The federal government said Wednesday that it will prove that former Pittsburgh Steelers doctor Richard Rydze illegally prescribed steroids, improperly prescribed human growth hormone and stole another doctor’s registration so he could write painkiller prescriptions in the name of his own dead father and his brother in Iowa.
His lawyer disputed some of the Justice Department’s claims but focused largely on intent, essentially saying Mr. Rydze was not able to form the intent to commit crimes because he is addicted to Vicodin, which he used to self-treat a diabetic foot wound.
The opening statements marked the first day of trial for Mr. Rydze, 66, a Steelers and UPMC internist until 2007, on 185 counts related to trafficking of steroids, HGH and narcotic painkillers, as well as obstruction of justice in what the government said was an attempt to get his brother to lie for him when he knew the FBI was investigating.
There are no allegations that Steelers players were involved.
The evidence in the case is massive, including recordings from wired FBI informants and boxes of medical records, and the trial is expected to last up to three months. “I appreciate that the volume is huge,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Skutnik of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cleveland. “This is just a thumbnail sketch.” The Cleveland office is handling the case because Mr. Rydze also was the doctor for the FBI office in Pittsburgh.
The prosecution’s presentation is broken down into three main parts pertaining to the drugs Mr. Rydze is accused of handing out.
On human growth hormone, Ms. Skutnik said he prescribed it for patients who had no need for it and had the prescriptions filled at the pharmacy of an alleged co-conspirator, William Sadowski of McKees Rocks, who pleaded guilty and will be a government witness. Among other witnesses will be Steve Thomas, a former professional bodybuilder who wore a wire for the FBI. Ms. Skutnik said the audio and video recordings show Mr. Rydze prescribing human growth hormone to Mr. Thomas to “jack up” his testosterone for bodybuilding, not for an approved medical need.
Mr. Thomas’ transactions and others like it were handled through direct payment with cash or credit cards because Mr. Rydze said insurance would not pay for HGH therapy if someone was not shown to be deficient in it, according to the prosecution.
Mr. Rydze also conspired with Brentwood business owner James Hatzimbes, according to the government, to distribute anabolic steroids to customers at “steroid clinics” the two men ran. Mr. Hatzimbes pleaded guilty Monday and will also be a witness.
In yet another scheme, Ms. Skutnik said Mr. Rydze used the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number of Dr. Anthony Yates, head of the Steelers’ medical team, to write prescriptions for painkillers. He used the names of his deceased father, Robert Rydze, and his brother, who has the same name.
Adrian Roe, Mr. Rydze’s lawyer, defended his client’s prescriptions of HGH, saying he was among a group of UPMC doctors who had done research on HGH and that he used it legitimately to treat medical conditions even though insurance would not pay for its use.
Mr. Roe did not directly challenge the government on its claims of steroid and painkiller distribution, instead arguing that his client’s mind was altered by his addiction to Vicodin. He said Mr. Rydze’s foot wound grew steadily worse until he made a “mistake” and started treating it himself with Vicodin until he became an addict.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com.