California trainer Frank Monteleone and assistant trainer Linda Mikus have been found liable for compensatory and punitive damages plus interest totaling $635,000 as the result of a civil suit brought against them by two horse owners who were clients of Monteleone's.
The May 4 decision, handed down by District Court Judge Jennifer Togliatti in Clark County, Nev., found that Monteleone and Mikus defrauded Joseph Hirshfeld and Ron Holguin out of $100,000 in the purchase and training costs of two European horses that the court found were neither purchased nor trained by Monteleone.
According to the complaint, Monteleone told Hirshfeld in 1995 he could get a good deal on a private purchase of two European turf horses -- Malrome and Musilumieres.
Training, veterinary, vanning, and farrier costs for the two runners were paid by Hirshfeld and Holguin. "We even saw (what we thought were) the two horses in question on numerous occasions, and were told the horses were doing great and would be running soon," Hirshfeld wrote in a letter to a California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) investigator. However, when the horses got close to a race, according to Hirshfeld, they would be scratched for various reasons. Neither horse ever started in North America.
Hirshfeld grew suspicious, and in 1997 contacted the CHRB. During the subsequent investigation by CHRB chief investigator Robert Nieto and senior special investigator Frank Fink, France Galop, France's horse regulatory organization, wrote to Nieto, "Musilumieres has always been (in) the ownership of Mr. Joel Damas" and that "Malrome had also only one owner-trainer, Mr. Jean-Jacques Boutin. No exportation has ever been reported to our office."
Edward Bishop, registrar of The Jockey Club, wrote to Nieto confirming that, according to The Jockey Club's records, neither horse had been imported to the United States.
Hirshfeld and Holguin initiated their civil suit in 1998. The May 4 judgment against Monteleone and Mikus ordered they pay Hirshfeld and Holguin $99,830 in general damages, prejudgment interest of $55,997, punitive damages totaling $474,634, plus $5,000 in attorney fees. To date, the CHRB has not sanctioned Monteleone.