A determined California horse owner has turned to the courts in her attempt to force the California Horse Racing Board to produce records of its dealings with trainer Frank Monteleone during the investigation of a recently settled civil fraud case.
Mary Frances Rowe filed her lawsuit against the CHRB March 25 in Sacramento County Superior Court. She is seeking a judicial ruling that compels the CHRB, the lone defendant, to comply with the California Public Records Act. No date for a hearing has been set, according to Rowe's attorney, Lisa M. Carlson of Riverside.
The 73-year-old Rowe contends a secret agreement or contract was made between Roy Wood Jr., then the executive director of the CHRB, and Monteleone, who was accused in a Nevada civil court action of defrauding two clients in the purchase and training of two European Thoroughbreds.
The case, which stems from a 1997 complaint to CHRB investigators, was closed Feb. 3 with an undisclosed settlement between the trainer and the plaintiffs, horse owners Joseph Hirshfeld and Ron Holguin.
Though a district judge in Nevada issued a $635,000 summary judgment against Monteleone several months before the two sides negotiated the settlement, the CHRB hasn't taken action against Monteleone. Rowe, citing longstanding backstretch speculation, said she believes it's because an agreement was made prior to May 2004 whereby the CHRB's Wood contracted with Monteleone for information on drug violations by other trainers on their horses. Wood recently retired after 10 years as executive director of the CHRB.
In response to Public Records Act requests made on Rowe's behalf Feb. 10 and March 3, the CHRB denied there was any contract in existence. A Sept. 24, 2004 letter signed by Derry L. Knight, deputy attorney general, in response to an earlier request from Rowe suggests there is a document of some kind.
In the letter, Knight said: "The requested record is exempt from disclosure under the PRA...it being part of an investigatory or security file compiled by the CHRB for law enforcement or licensing purposes."
The CHRB has a policy not to comment on pending legal matters.
"It's a law-enforcement matter about which the California Horse Racing Board has no comment," spokesman Mike Marten said after consulting with Ingrid Fermin, the CHRB's current executive director, and board chairman John Harris.
Rowe, a former mayor of the South San Francisco Bay Area city of Sunnyvale, moved to Hemet, in the southern half of the state, three years ago. A novice in the racing business, she decided to take on the CHRB when, she charged, its investigator did nothing to help her after she was "swindled" by a well-known trainer in a private horse sale. Rowe eventually recovered the $30,000 involved in the purchase.
Her interest in the Monteleone case came from that experience and her belief the CHRB operates in secret.
"They are a public agency," Rowe said. "So why don't they start acting like it?"
Rowe also has formed a group of about 50 she calls the Thoroughbred Organization Against Drugs (T.O.A.D.), with the goal of protecting horses from trainers that use illegal drugs.