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Toronto doctor's former aide takes plea; She admits making false statements in drug-smuggling case

The former assistant to a high-profile Toronto doctor who has treated many famous athletes took a guilty plea Thursday in Buffalo's federal courthouse.

Mary Anne Catalano, 32, of Toronto, admitted that she made false statements to officers at the Peace Bridge when she tried to enter Buffalo from Canada last Sept. 14.

She is considered the prime government witness in a case against her ex-boss, Dr. Anthony Galea, who is accused of drug smuggling and other crimes involving human growth hormone.

Although Galea is not licensed to practice in the United States, he is widely known for his treatment of injured athletes, including golfer Tiger Woods and baseball player Alex Rodriguez.

Could any of the athletes face prosecution in the case?

At this point, athletes who have "provided truthful cooperation" in the case are considered witnesses, not targets for prosecution, said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.

Any witness who lies or purposely misleads federal agents could be prosecuted, Hochul said.

"This is an ongoing investigation," Hochul said. "[Catalano's guilty plea] is one step in a continuing investigation."

In a plea agreement filed with U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, Catalano admitted that -- at Galea's direction -- she lied to border officers who asked her why she was bringing drugs, syringes and other medical items into the United States.

Catalano told the officers she was going to meet Galea at a medical conference in Washington, D.C., where the items would be put on display. In fact, Catalano admitted later, she was going to meet Galea in Washington to provide treatment to a professional athlete.

"Why did you do this?" Arcara asked.

"It's just it was a lapse of judgment on my part, but [Galea] was my employer and someone I've known since I was 15 years old," said Catalano, fighting back sobs. "I didn't think he would put me in this position."

For making false statements, Catalano could face up to five years in prison, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Campana said the government may ask Arcara for a much shorter sentence -- possibly probation -- because of her cooperation with investigators.

As part of her plea agreement, she has agreed to testify against Galea or in any other proceedings related to the case, Campana said.

Federal agents said Catalano was trying to smuggle "misbranded drugs," including Nutropin, a human growth hormone sometimes used by athletes to increase their potential for muscle-building.

"From time to time during the period of 2007 through September 14, 2009, [Catalano] came to the United States with Dr. Galea on occasions when he administered treatments to athletes," Campana said in court papers. "Such treatments would take place either in the homes of athletes or in hotel rooms."

Catalano alleged that Galea "administered Actovegin to athletes on numerous occasions" in the United States, adding that she once traveled to Germany to obtain Actovegin for Galea.

Actovegin, a drug that is extracted from calves blood, is not approved for use in the United States, authorities said.

Catalano attorney Rodney O. Personius said, "She has provided extraordinary cooperation in this case. Even before she had an attorney, she met with [federal agents] for several days."

Another attorney for Catalano, Calvin Barry of Toronto, said she has not spoken with Galea since her arrest more than nine months ago.

Catalano told Arcara she is a certified athletic therapist who has two college degrees, one of them in sports injury management. She no longer works for Galea and now is an office manager at another sports medicine facility.

Galea, 50, is not licensed to treat patients in the United States, but he has treated many famous athletes in this country. Last month, he was charged with smuggling, conspiracy, distributing human growth hormone, making false statements and introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce.

Galea's Buffalo attorney, Mark J. Mahoney, said Galea helped athletes recover from injuries but never helped them to illegally use steroids or human growth hormone for muscle-building.

"This is a case about medicines," not illegal drugs, Mahoney said.

Authorities said investigators in Toronto last year seized detailed patient information and drugs during a raid of Galea's sports medicine clinic. They say his patients, in addition to Woods and Rodriguez, have included at least 10 other prominent professional athletes, including players from the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

Galea faces criminal charges in Canada for allegedly selling Actovegin, conspiracy to import an unapproved drug, conspiracy to export a drug and smuggling. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Thursday was an emotional day for Catalano, Personius said.

"In certain ways, she had a very exciting life for a young woman, traveling around, meeting all these famous athletes, getting to know them on a first-name basis," Personius said. "Then it all came to a very strange end, with her being arrested, and she winds up cooperating in a federal investigation. I think it all hit her today in the courtroom."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com