BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - Toronto sports doctor Anthony Galea, who has treated such athletes as golfer Tiger Woods, on Wednesday admitted to illegally bringing human growth hormones and performance-enhancing drugs into the United States.
Galea faces a likely sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison, and a maximum of three years, for his role in transporting the drugs from Canada from early 2007 to September 2009.
The 51-year-old Canadian doctor had faced a five-count indictment that included a smuggling charge with a harsher potential penalty of 20 years in prison.
Under his plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to introducing misbranded drugs into the country, the stiffer charges were dismissed.
Galea was accused of smuggling such substances as human growth hormones, which is used to aid in muscular and joint recovery time, energy-boosting ATP which is used in training, and actovegin, a performance-enhancing drug. Human growth hormones are banned by professional sports, and actovegin is not approved for use in the United States.
The case came to light when Galea's assistant Mary Anne Catalano was arrested in September 2009 carrying drugs as she crossed the Peace Bridge into Buffalo from Ontario, Canada.
She told prosecutors she was planning to meet up with Galea to treat a patient in Washington, D.C. Galea, who specializes in sports medicine, is licensed to practice in Canada but not in the United States.
Prosecutors said the doctor and his assistant made dozens of such trips, claiming to border patrol agents that they were attending medical conferences.
"The nature of the offense was to enter the U.S. repeatedly under false pretenses," assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Campana said in U.S. District Court.
At least 20 professional athletes were among Galea's patients, prosecutors said, adding that not all of them received Galea's complete array of treatments.
The athletes included champion pro golfer Tiger Woods as well as professional football players Jamal Lewis and Takeo Spikes, Campana said.
Galea's assistant also has entered into a plea deal with prosecutors and is cooperating in the investigation.
At his sentencing, set for October 19 by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara, Galea faces a possible fine of up to $40,000. He also was ordered to forfeit $275,000 and was released, pending sentencing.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune