Former Steelers doctor indicted for improper prescriptions
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Once an Olympic medalist and for decades a physician to some of the region's prominent athletes, Richard A. Rydze was jailed Friday after the release of a 185-count federal indictment accusing him of improperly distributing steroids, human growth hormone and pain medication, plus health care fraud and obstruction of justice.
Dr. Rydze, 62, of Downtown, had no comment as he was led in handcuffs from U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell's office after a brief initial hearing. A doctor for the Steelers for more than 20 years until 2007, he is scheduled to be back in court Monday, when a judge could decide whether he should be released or held during the pretrial process.
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 traveled from Ohio to handle the doctor's initial appearance, insisted that he be held, saying that he had written prescriptions despite a suspended license since late July -- at least once, and perhaps 10 to 15 times.
She said that makes him a danger to the community and accused him of "previous flight," although she did not elaborate.
Cleveland-based prosecutors are handling the case because "people in the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office [in Pittsburgh] saw [Dr. Rydze] as you would see a doctor," said Michael Tobin, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio. He would not elaborate, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
Western Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton's office would not provide any information on why it could not prosecute the case.
Dr. Rydze, a silver medalist in platform diving at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, was listed as one of the Steelers' physicians in media guides as recently as the mid-2000s. Team spokesman Burt Lauten would not comment.
Dr. Rydze's departure from the Steelers' service followed closely reports that he was under investigation for purchases of large quantities of human growth hormone. In a 2009 interview with ESPN, Dr. Rydze said he bought HGH in bulk to help patients heal from tendon injuries, but never gave it to Steelers players.
Neither the team nor its players are mentioned in the indictment.
Also charged are William Zipf, 56, whose Pittsburgh-area address was not provided; James Hatzimbes, 42, who operated a business called HSE Salon and Wellness Center that moved last year to Pleasant Hills; William M. Sadowski, 46, whose Robinson-based business is called ANEWrx; and John F. Gavin, 51, of Valencia, a registered nurse who worked with ANEWrx.
The events alleged in the indictment began 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.
Mr. Hatzimbes' attorney declined comment.
Dr. Rydze falsely diagnosed 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 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, although all were adults more than 5 feet tall. One pituitary dwarfism patient, it said, was a 61-year-old, 5-foot-11-inch former karate competitor and bodybuilder.
"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 a press 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."
The doctor submitted claims for the human growth hormone prescriptions to Highmark and other insurers, the indictment said.
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.
Mr. Sadowski's attorney declined comment.
With Mr. Zipf, according to the indictment, 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, it said.
Dr. Rydze, it said, also got more than 21,000 Vicodin ES pills by calling prescriptions in to pharmacies using another doctor's Drug Enforcement Administration registration 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 was suspended by the DEA in late July, said Ms. Skutnick, but he kept writing prescriptions. She said his license is now revoked due to the indictment.
The doctor also faces obstruction of justice charges for trying to persuade witnesses to provide false testimony and for making false entries in patient charts, according to the indictment.
Mr. Novara said that Dr. Rydze had a private attorney, but he cannot handle this case. Judge Mitchell allowed the public defender's office to continue to represent the doctor but cautioned that he may have to reimburse the federal government for the office's time.
First Published October 20, 2012 12:00 am