Vienna Resigns CHRB Consultant Post
Vienna, who is also an attorney, held a no-bid contract as an adviser on rule enforcement to the California Horse Racing Board.
Ingrid Fermin, executive director of the CHRB, confirmed that Vienna, a Southern California-based trainer, submitted his resignation in mid-May after completing one year of an agreement that would have paid him $348,000 over the full three-year duration.
"He felt the work that he had been contracted to do was completed," Fermin said.
The 60-year-old Vienna, who worked in both the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office and in private practice, also is considered expert in medication law. In the past, Vienna has assisted the CHRB in the development of rules and procedures relating to backstretch security, surveillance and TCO2 testing.
Fermin said he was hired to review and fine tune CHRB rules that were outdated and to help establish uniform procedures for handling cases. He conducted seminars this spring for track stewards as well as a four-day training session for agency investigators. For his work, he was paid about $124,000, she said.
"He advised them on procedures for fine tuning our cases and streamlining investigations," Fermin said. "His expertise was tremendous. He was very unique with the kind of work that he has done and its application to this board. Some experts in their fields are not necessarily very good at communicating their knowledge, but he was also a good teacher. I think everyone who spent time with him learned a great deal."
Vienna, who has trained, owned and bred Thoroughbreds since 1976, did not return a phone message. He was in South America the week of June 4, according to CHRB spokesman Mike Marten. During his tenure with the CHRB, Vienna continued to train horses but was barred from representing licensees before the board and could not participate or provide counsel on any matter in which he had an interest.
Vienna's arrangement with the board was called into question as a conflict of interest by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and a government watchdog group after they alleged that the trainer's record included 14 fines totaling about $4,500, including eight for medication violations involving his horses. In addition, Richard Shapiro, chairman of the CHRB commission, acknowledged that he had sent Vienna one of his horses to train after Vienna was given the consultant's job.
Yee became an outspoken critic of Shapiro and the CHRB after a March vote -- now being reconsidered -- led to a decision by Bay Meadows Race Course to close its doors after 73 years. Yee, who threatened the agency's funding in the dispute, complained that it was a conflict of interest for Shapiro to use Vienna as a trainer while being paid by the CHRB as a consultant.
Vienna said any of his medication violations were for "residual amounts" or overages for permitted drugs that were not performance enhancing.
"The allegations regarding the awarding of a contract to an individual with my CHRB medication record are spurious and misleading," Vienna wrote in a letter to a government official that was cited by The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Fermin said she did not know if the political imbroglio factored into Vienna's decision to terminate his contract.
"I'm not sure if it did or not," she said. "He told me he had completed what he was hired to do. It was never brought up."
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