Richard Rydze pleaded not guilty today to a 185-count indictment accusing him of improperly distributing steroids, human growth hormone and pain medication, plus health care fraud and obstruction of justice, and was released on $100,000 bond pending trial.
At an arraignment and detention hearing, new details emerged on the case against Dr. Rydze, 62, of Downtown, who served as one of the Steelers' physicians for around 20 years until 2007. Attempting to argue that he should remain jailed, as he has been since Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Skutnik said that he "has been nothing but obstructive" during recent investigations.
Ms. Skutnik said that FBI agents discovered that Dr. Rydze was writing prescriptions, using another doctor's Drug Enforcement Administration number, for his deceased father or his brother, who have the same name. Agents contacted both the other doctor and the brother, and found out that the doctor had not authorized the prescriptions, and the brother had not received them.
Dr. Rydze then told his brother, "If anyone asks, I have been writing you prescriptions," said DEA Agent Stephen Moluse, who has worked on the case and testified today.
"His brother said he would not lie for Dr. Rydze [by saying he had received prescriptions] and advised that he had already been contacted by the FBI," said Mr. Moluse. "Dr. Rydze admitted to his brother that he was addicted to Vicodin."
Later, when Ms. Skutnik repeated the account of addiction, Dr. Rydze vigorously shook his head no.
Ms. Skutnik said that since Dr. Rydze's license to prescribe was suspended effective July 26, he has nonetheless written several prescriptions for narcotics. She said he also disappeared for three days following a March 2011 search of his office by the FBI. Those acts made him a danger to the community and a flight risk, she said.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Marketa Sims said that Dr. Rydze would have fled long ago if he was so inclined, and "has never done anything except express the intention to beat these charges." She added that he was a doctor to the local FBI office from 1990 through 2011, showing that he has deep roots in the community.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell placed Dr. Rydze on home detention, under orders to surrender all prescription pads.
Ms. Skutnik said that Dr. Rydze was investigated in 2006 and 2007 by New York state narcotics detectives following a bulk purchase of human growth hormone from Florida. After that, the National Football League and UPMC, for which he worked at the time, also investigated him. His relationship with both the Steelers and UPMC ended.
The FBI searched Dr. Rydze's offices in March 2011 and January 2012. He should have known based on all of those probes that his use of human growth hormone for off-label purposes was illegal, Ms. Skutnik said.
The indictment unsealed Friday does not indicate that Dr. Rydze provided performance-enhancing drugs to Steelers players. It said that he participated in steroid clinics at which various drugs used to enhance athleticism were prescribed for unnamed patients who would then pay a premium to order them through a pharmacy, which then paid Dr. Rydze around $300,000 in commissions.
It said that separately, he worked with several other people to get narcotics which were then sold on the street.
One of those alleged co-conspirators, William Zipf, who is a co-defendant in the case, is in federal prison in Morgantown for cocaine distribution. Ms. Sims implied that Zipf may be informing against Dr. Rydze in hopes of getting favorable consideration.
The two sides now have until Dec. 6 to file pretrial motions, though that deadline may be extended.
The prosecution is being run out of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Northern Ohio because agents of the Pittsburgh office of the FBI, and possibly personnel with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, have treated with Dr. Rydze.
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