Ninety-six vials of human growth hormone and various other drugs are at the centre of a controversy that threatens to engulf the career of a respected Toronto sports medicine doctor accused of selling an unapproved drug to patients.
On Wednesday the RCMP charged Oakville resident Anthony Galea, 51, with selling Actovegin, a substance that is derived from calf's blood and unapproved for use in Canada. He is also facing charges of conspiracy to import and export an unapproved drug, as well as smuggling goods into Canada.
The news is raising questions about Dr. Galea's practices at his private clinic, the Institute of Sports Medicine and Wellness Center Inc. in Etobicoke, and his relationship with high-profile athletes, which have included the likes of Tiger Woods, Vancouver 2010 figure skating hopeful Patrick Chan, Donovan Bailey, and others. He is also head team physician for the Toronto Argonauts.
Dr. Galea's legal problems began Sept. 14, when one of his employees, identified as Mary Anne Catalano, a 32-year-old Etobicoke athletic therapist, was stopped by U.S. border officials trying to cross the Peace Bridge into Buffalo.
Western District of New York court documents show that border officials questioned Ms. Catalano after she declared medical supplies in her vehicle. She waived her rights, agreed to speak to agents and "admitted to agents that she knew the items that she was bringing into the United States were illegal and that she was doing this for her employer," the court documents said.
Border agents found several items in her car, including 20 vials and 76 ampoules, or sealed vials, of "misbranded" drugs, including the human growth hormone Nutropin, as well as 111 syringes, one medical centrifuge and one diagnostic ultrasound computer. Misbranded drugs can include those with false or misleading labels or those without sufficient label information.
Ms. Catalano was charged with smuggling goods into the U.S. and faces a court appearance next month, according to her lawyer Calvin Barry, who said he's confident she'll be cleared of wrongdoing.
"I take the view she's done nothing wrong," he said.
Ms. Catalano has worked for Dr. Galea since 2004 and quit when she was arrested, Mr. Barry said.
But the incident is what sparked an investigation by the RCMP.
About a month after Ms. Catalano was held up at the border, the RCMP executed a search warrant at Dr. Galea's sports medicine clinic and arrested him. He wasn't charged until Wednesday by RCMP investigators who allege he illegally imported and smuggled the drug Actovegin into Canada and gave it to patients.
In an October interview with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Galea said that while drugs such as Actovegin aren't approved by Health Canada, he is allowed to give them to patients as long as they have been properly informed.
Dr. Galea's lawyer, Brian Greenspan, has said his client does not give performance-enhancing drugs to patients and has denied wrongdoing.
A Mississauga clinical nutritionist who has known Dr. Galea for years said he has never known him to deal with any drugs or procedures that border on illegal and that he has actually spoken out against illegal performance-enhancing substances.
"He's never been involved in any high performance stuff," said the nutritionist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I just don't see Tony being the kind of guy that would encourage that type of behaviour."
Dr. Galea has been registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario since 1987 and has not been involved with any disciplinary hearings resulting in a finding of misconduct or any other impropriety, said Cathryn Clarke, senior communications co-ordinator. The college monitors when doctors are charged with a criminal offence, and could launch a professional misconduct hearing if the individual is found guilty.
The Toronto Argonauts Football Club reviews its medical team on a yearly basis and will decide whether to renew its relationship with Dr. Galea some time in the new year, said director of communications Beth Waldman.
Dr. Galea is due to appear at Old City Hall Court Friday.