Former Steelers doctor charged with improper drug distribution

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A Pittsburgh-based physician is a subject of a 185-count indictment in federal court in Pittsburgh, following an extensive FBI investigation, authorities announced today.

Richard A. Rydze, 62, of Downtown, faces charges of conspiring to distribute anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, oxycodone and oxycontin, along with healthcare fraud and obstruction of justice, according to a press release by U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio. His office is handling the prosecution, but court proceedings will be in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Rydze served the Steelers for around 20 years until his separation from the team in 2007. Neither the team nor its players are mentioned in the indictment. Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten would not comment.

This afternoon U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell ordered Dr. Rydze jailed over the weekend, pending a hearing Monday on whether he should remain in custody.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael Novara, representing Dr. Rydze, asked "whether or not a lifelong, law-abiding, well-respected member of the community like the doctor" should be jailed pending trial.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol M. Skutnik, who travelled from Ohio to handle the doctor's initial appearance, insisted that he be held, saying that he has written prescriptions despite a suspended license since late July -- at least once, and perhaps 10 to 15 other times.

She said that makes him "a danger to the community" and accused him of "previous flight," though she did not elaborate.

Also charged are William Zipf, 56, whose Pittsburgh-area address was not provided, and James Hatzimbes, 42, who operated a business called HSE Salon and Wellness Center, which moved last year to Pleasant Hills. Charged in a separate criminal information filing with conspiracy to distribute steroids is William M. Sadowski, whose Robinson-based business is called ANEWrx.

The men were indicted under seal on Oct. 17, and the charges were revealed today.

The events alleged in the indictment begin in 2005 and continued into this year, and focus on Dr. Rydze's businesses, Optimal Health Center.

Dr. Rydze and Mr. Hatzimbes, the indictment said, would conduct "steroid clinics" for which patients paid $75 per session.

Dr. Rydze falsely diagnose clients with hormone imbalances and other conditions to justify the prescriptions, the indictment said. "Many of the clients were athletes who were seeking hormone replacement therapy and anabolic steroids to help improve performance," it said.

The indictment said that Dr. Rydze told an FBI source that his clients were "people who are doing weights and that. Their ??? muscles get too strong for the tendons. That's why these guys are all ripping their tendons."

Dr. Rydze, it said, diagnosed more than 90 patients with a pediatric condition called pituitary dwarfism, though all were adults of more than five feet tall, it said. One pituitary dwarfism patient, it said, was a 61-year-old, 5 foot 11 inch former karate competitor and bodybuilder.

The doctor submitted claims for their human growth hormone prescriptions to Highmark, it said.

In a 2009 interview with ESPN regarding his work with the Steelers, Dr. Rydze said that he bought quantities of human growth hormone to help patients heal from tendon injuries, but never gave the substance to Steelers players.

Mr. Sadowski supplied steroids to Dr. Rydze's patients at a marked-up price, and paid the physician more than $300,000 in commissions, the indictment said.

With Mr. Zipf, it said, Dr. Rydze conspired to distribute oxycodone, oxymorphone, oxycontin and opana, all prescription narcotics. He wrote prescriptions for the drugs for Mr. Zipf's family members, without first examining them, and Mr. Zipf distributed them to others.

Dr. Rydze, it said, also got more than 21,000 pills of Vicodin ES by calling prescriptions in to pharmacies using another doctor's Drug Enforcement Administration restriction number, without that doctor's permission. Some of the prescriptions were written for a relative of Dr. Rydze, even after that relative's April 2010 death, it said.

Dr. Rydze also authorized prescriptions for 9,600 Vicodin ES pills for relatives of a woman with whom he exchanged sexually charged text messages, it said. Dr. Rydze's license to prescribe medication has been suspended by the DEA.

The doctor also faces obstruction of justice charges for trying to persuade witnesses to provide false testimony and making false entries in patient charts, according to the indictment.

"Because of doctor-patient relationships Rydze had in the Western District of Pennsylvania, this investigation is supervised by the FBI's Cleveland Office and is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio," the release said. A spokeswoman for Western Pennsylvania's U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton would not elaborate.

"Doctors have a tremendous power in prescribing medication, and the vast majority use that power to dispense medicine to help sick people," Mr. Dettelbach said in the release. "This doctor is accused of using his prescription pad like a personal ATM, doling out steroids, painkillers and other medicine for his own gain."

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Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542 First Published October 19, 2012 2:00 PM


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