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BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - Toronto sports doctor Anthony Galea, who has treated such athletes as golfer Tiger Woods, admitted on Wednesday 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, but no more than three years behind bars, for his role in transporting the drugs from Canada from early 2007 to September 2009.
Galea collected a total of about $800,000 from patients during that time, according to the plea agreement.
The 51-year-old Canadian physician had been charged in a five-count indictment with smuggling, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison if he were convicted.
Under his agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to the less serious offense of introducing misbranded drugs into the country, and the harsher charges he faced 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 District Court.
The plea agreement states that Galea's patients included Major League Baseball and National Football League players.
Although Galea counted at least 20 professional athletes in all among his patients, some did not receive his complete array of treatments, prosecutors said.
His more high-profile patients included champion pro golfer Tiger Woods and NFL players Jamal Lewis and Takeo Spikes, Campana said. But prosecutors did not make clear whether any of Galea's professional sports patients used the drugs and hormones he brought into the United States illegally.
Galea's assistant also has entered into a plea deal with prosecutors and is cooperating in the investigation.
The doctor practiced at the Toronto-based Institute of Sports Medicine Health and Wellness Center, according to the plea agreement.
At his sentencing, set for October 19 by District 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 Steve Gorman