The price sounds steep—$3,500, plus expenses, for a house call—but for the kind of people seeking Dr. Anthony Galea’s help, it’s chump change. New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez used his services, as did his on-again-off-again girlfriend Madonna, and Swedish soccer star and Calvin Klein underwear model Freddie Ljungberg, per a well-placed source. Tiger Woods flew him to Florida five or six times—business class, naturally. According to an affidavit filed in court when the RCMP searched Galea’s offices in mid-October, seeking evidence of performance-enhancing drugs, the 51-year-old doctor treated 23 pro-athletes in eight different American cities over a nine-week period last summer. During the last decade, hundreds more from the NFL, NHL, CFL, NBA, major league baseball, track and field, and beyond, have beaten a path to his unassuming clinic, now located near Pearson International Airport, seeking to ease their aches and injuries. And even after Tony Galea’s name has been dragged through the mud for months, fingered as the latest sports “Dr. Feelgood,” the calls still keep coming. When David Beckham tore his Achilles tendon in March, shattering his World Cup dream, he reached out to Galea, looking for a miracle. The doctor turned him away.
On May 18, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo, N.Y., filed five charges against Galea, including smuggling, distributing human growth hormone (HGH), and introducing an unapproved drug—the calves’ blood extract Actovegin—to interstate commerce. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to 38 years in prison, and $1.25 million in fines. It was simply the latest twist in a saga that has sent the Justice Department and the FBI sniffing around some of the biggest names in sport, seeking evidence of cheating. And it promises to get messier still.
Last Sept. 14, Mary Anne Catalano, then Galea’s executive assistant, was pulled over as she entered the U.S. at the Peace Bridge border crossing near Niagara Falls. In the car, a 2009 Nissan Rogue registered to one of Galea’s companies, ofﬁcers found an ultrasound computer, a centrifuge, and a medical bag stuffed with 111 syringes, 20 vials, and 76 ampoules of various prescription and homeopathic drugs. Within the bag was one partially used bottle of HGH. The 32-year-old initially told investigators that the supplies were for a medical conference she was flying on to in Washington, but, under questioning, quickly recanted the story. The truth, Catalano said, was she was bringing the drugs across the border at Galea’s behest—the doctor, who has no licence to practice south of the border, had been stopped by U.S. Customs officers at Pearson the February before and feared his file was “flagged.” The real purpose of the trip to Washington, she said, was to treat a member of the NFL’s Redskins.
The border agents seized and searched Catalano’s laptop, BlackBerry and an external hard drive. With her assistance—she has been classified as a “co-operating witness”—they traced Galea’s movements around the U.S. since the summer of 2007, pulling calendars, treatment notes and invoices. The RCMP affidavit, still sealed in Canada, but leaked to the American sports channel ESPN, says Catalano identified seven different pro athletes to whom Galea had administered HGH. The charges filed in Buffalo only make specific reference to one case of growth-hormone use, alleging the doctor provided the drug to a retired NFL player in connection with “quality of life issues.”
Catalano’s Toronto lawyer Calvin Barry won’t discuss what his client has told the FBI. (She’s due back in a Buffalo court June 11, when she hopes the charges against her will be dropped.) But Barry isn’t exactly shying away from suggestions that there is more— much more—to come. He’s fielded calls from investigators from all the major sports leagues, and muses about the possibility of her testifying at U.S. Congressional hearings. “She met a bundle of celebrities. It was an interesting experience for her, a little girl from Etobicoke,” he says.
In the press, Galea is being portrayed as the next Victor Conte, the San Francisco lab owner whose designer steroids fuelled home-run records and Olympic medallists. The charges and the raid on his clinic have brought unwelcome publicity for his patients, including Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan, who sought treatment for an ankle injury in the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Much has been made about the doctor’s “unorthodox” treatments, including the use of platelet rich plasma (PRP), where the patient’s blood is concentrated through spinning, then reinjected into the injury area to help speed healing. For some, it’s uncomfortably cutting edge: the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) barely tolerates it because of its potential for abuse, demanding athletes seek a therapeutic exemption.
But that forward-thinking reputation is precisely why Galea attracted so many big-name clients, and such renown among his fellow sports physicians. “Dr. Galea has never engaged in the performance enhancement of any athlete. He’s a healer,” says Brian Greenspan, his Canadian defence counsel. To prove the point he flips through a thick binder of testimonials, many collected as Galea started to seek a U.S. work visa on the basis of “extraordinary ability,” and a Colorado medical licence in the spring and summer of 2009. Bill Knowles, a Vermont sports trainer, wrote that he had referred elite athletes—including Tiger Woods—to the Toronto physician for the past six years. “Tiger has been most impressed and pleased with his level of expertise.” Marc J. Philippon, the Colorado surgeon who operated on A-Rod’s hip last spring, wrote: “Dr. Galea is one of the top one to two per cent of individuals throughout the world currently working within the field of PRP injections in athletes.” The Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Denver had offered Galea a position. One of the principals, Theodore Schlelgel, team physician for both the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies, wrote that he would serve as Galea’s sponsor.