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Former Steelers doctor charged with distributing steroids, hormones, narcotics

| Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, 10:58 a.m.
Dr. Richard A. Rydze, 62, of the Strip District was on the Steelers' medical staff for 22 years until 2007, when he became the target of a federal investigation into human growth hormone trafficking. In March 2011, federal agents raided his Optimal Health Care LLC office on First Avenue, Downtown, which he opened in 2007, according to the indictment. Tribune-Review file

A former doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the FBI's field office appeared in federal court on Friday on 185 charges of health care fraud and trafficking in anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and painkillers.

A onetime Olympic medalist in platform diving, Dr. Richard A. Rydze, 62, of the Strip District finds himself mired in bankruptcy and criminal charges. Wearing leg shackles and dressed in a red knit shirt and black pants, Rydze briefly answered questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell during an initial appearance in federal court, Downtown, but declined to comment as marshals led him away.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael Novara argued that Rydze should be let out on bond because he's a “lifelong, well-respected member of the community.” Mitchell ordered Rydze held without bail.

Prosecutors and FBI agents from Cleveland are handling the investigation and prosecution of Rydze because of his doctor-patient relationships with local FBI agents.

Rydze was on the Steelers medical staff for 22 years until 2007, when federal agents questioned him about his use of a personal credit card to buy about $150,000 worth of human growth hormone and testosterone from a Florida pharmacy.

An indictment charges him with trafficking in painkillers since 2005 and trafficking in steroids and human growth hormones since 2007.

UPMC, which provides the doctors for the Steelers, started an internal investigation in 2007, and by August of that year, he no longer worked for the hospital system or the football team.

UPMC spokeswoman Susan Manko said the hospital “has been aware of the investigation and has been cooperating fully with authorities throughout the investigation. Per UPMC policy, we cannot comment further on this legal and personnel matter.”

Rydze was trafficking in the painkiller hydrocodone-acetaminophen as early as Feb. 4, 2005, prosecutors say. The indictment says he used another doctor's name and Drug Enforcement Administration registration number for the prescriptions but identifies the doctor only as “AY.”

Dr. Freddie Fu, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said he did not know much about Rydze other than that he was a partner with Dr. Anthony Yates, the head of the Steelers medical team. Yates declined to comment.

Steelers veterans Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Charlie Batch and Ben Roethlisberger, all of whom began playing for Pittsburgh while Rydze worked for the team, said they had not heard of the doctor. Team spokesman Burt Lauten declined to comment.

In March 2011, federal agents raided Rydze's Optimal Health Care LLC office on First Avenue, Downtown, which he opened in 2007, according to the indictment.

A spokeswoman for Little Sisters of the Poor confirmed that Rydze works as the medical director for its Brighton Heights home for seniors. She declined further comment.

The grand jury also indicted William Zipf, 56, on two counts related to narcotics trafficking and James Hatzimbes, 42, on six counts related to steroid and hormone trafficking. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Northern Ohio declined to provide home addresses for either man.

The indictment says Zipf conspired with Rydze to fill painkiller prescriptions in several people's names at multiple pharmacies to hide the amount of painkillers he was buying.

Hatzimbes owned and operated HSE Salon and Wellness Center on Saw Mill Run Boulevard in Overbrook. According to the indictment, Rydze and Hatzimbes scheduled “steroid clinics” at the salon nearly every other Saturday in which Rydze would misdiagnose clients as having hormone imbalance, pituitary dwarfism or adrenal insufficiency and prescribe hormones or steroids. The two men split the $75 fee they charged each client, the indictment says.

Rydze also received $301,407 in commissions from clients filling their fraudulent prescriptions at ANEWrx pharmacy in Robinson, the indictment states.

Prosecutors charged the pharmacy's owner, William Sadowski, 46, of Pittsburgh, and an employee, John Gavin, 51, of Valencia, in separate cases with conspiring to traffic steroids.

Rydze and his wife filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2010, selling their home in Mt. Lebanon and a condominium in Hidden Valley to help clear their debts. A federal bankruptcy judge dismissed the case in September when they were unable to pay their federal taxes, which means they lost bankruptcy protection from their creditors.

On Friday, Mitchell questioned the need for keeping Rydze in jail, but special Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Skutnik argued that Rydze has a previous attempt at flight from prosecution. The DEA suspended his ability to write prescriptions in June and has since revoked his license, but he has written 10 to 15 prescriptions since then, Skutnik said. She declined to provide details after the hearing. Novara also declined to comment.

Rydze filled out a form asking the court to appoint a lawyer to represent him.

Andrew Conte, Carl Prine and Ralph Paulk contributed to this report.Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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