The state and federal probe of an alleged money-laundering operation and tax-cheating scheme at New York Racing Association tracks could stretch on for months, law enforcement sources said.
Officials close to the investigation told The Blood-Horse on condition of anonymity that the money-laundering operation involved large amounts of mainly drug-deal proceeds that organized crime elements were "cleansing" through NYRA tracks on a regular basis. A source declined to say if any one particular crime family has been involved, or how much in illegal transactions may have been taken place at NYRA tracks since the probe began a year ago.
State police raided Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga racetracks last week and confiscated boxloads of documents for an investigation being handled by AttorneyGeneral Eliot Spitzer's Organized Crime Task Force. Sources say Belmont was the chief center of activity for the laundering scheme, in which money, with the apparent help of mutuel tellers and workers in back-room money centers, changed dirty money into untraceable funds.
Meanwhile, federal investigators have their own investigation under way. It involves, at a minimum, allegations that a tax-evasion scheme helped big winners, as well as those trying to get rid of "dirty" money, avoid having to pay federal taxes on winnings.
Top NYRA officials have maintained the racing entity itself is not under investigation. But officials with the state Racing and Wagering Board said NYRA itself was warned two years ago about concerns with its betting operations; regulators said they have been prodding NYRA to do an outside audit to allay the concerns, but no such audit was performed.
In an interview Monday, the New York Attorney General agreed with law enforcement sources that the investigation is far from over. "The nature of a case (like this) is that it can be meandering," Spitzer said. "There are certain pieces of it that are quite focused where we will be able to answer certain questions in the near term, but it will not be publicly resolved until we have pursued a significant number of inquiries that are in front of us right now."
Spitzer said cases like this one produce a huge volume of paperwork and other evidence that could lead investigators in directions they have not yet considered.
The attorney general said there has been no evidence the investigation will lead to charges of race-fixing. "I don't think we have seen anything yet that would suggest that the underlying integrity of the sport is at issue here," Spitzer said. "What we are dealing with here is the sort of impropriety that attaches itself to substantial volumes of cash where you have the possibility of money-laundering or cash disappearing from the tracks."
Spitzer confirmed there could be some criminal tax cases made against individuals as a result of the probe.
"We are always concerned about assuring the integrity of betting and the flow of cash through the racetracks," the state's chief law enforcement official said. "There are substantial opportunities for misconduct any time you are dealing with a business that generates such enormous amounts of cash. And the allegations we are pursuing that raise the specter that some of the cash has not been handled properly, we will pursue aggressively to ensure the public can be confident that an institution of state government is being run properly."
When asked how far up the chain of command at NYRA the investigation could go, Spitzer said: "I certainly couldn't say, but we have gotten, to this point, full and complete cooperation from those at the top."
Meanwhile, industry sources said others are hoping the controversy raised over the investigation at NYRA could raise some new hurdles for NYRA and the TV Games Network in their bid to buy New York City Off Track Betting Corp. A number of other companies have expressed an interest in purchasing NYCOTB. The timing of the NYRA probe could stall those efforts, sources aligned with NYRA's competitors in the bidding suggested Monday.