Sclafani and Baeza Relieved At Full Acquittal

Sclafani and Baeza Relieved At Full Acquittal
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Mario Sclafani (left) and Braulio Baeza outside the Saratoga County Courthouse after all charges were dismissed.

A Saratoga County judge on Sept. 17 dismissed all charges against two former New York Racing Association clerks of scales, Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani, who were indicted by a grand jury on charges of allowing several jockeys to ride above their published weight in 2004.

Judge Jerry Scarano tossed the 291-count indictment, initiated by former State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (now Governor Spitzer), because he wasn't satisfied with the evidence produced by the prosecution, according to Paul DerOhannesian II, the attorney for Baeza.

"The scales were not properly calibrated; they were only calibrated to 115 pounds and never tested beyond that for the proper weight," DerOhannesian said. "And all the weights in this case were said to be above [115]."

The scale in question was at Saratoga Race Course and Judge Scarano only made a decision based on evidence gathered at the upstate track. The indictment also alleged jockeys were riding at higher weights at Belmont Park and Aqueduct. DerOhannesian said in light of Judge Scarano’s decision, he didn’t anticipate the case would be prosecuted any further by a downstate court, but said the "prospect" does remain.

"These were two hard-working men doing their jobs," DerOhannesian said. "It’s close to three years of their life that was lost."

NYRA terminated the employment of Sclafani and Baeza in September 2005 because of the allegations they allowed five prominent jockeys to ride when they weighed as much as 15 pounds over their announced weight. The former clerks of scales allegedly conspired with Jose Santos, Robby Albarado, Herberto Castillo Jr., Ariel Smith, and Cornelio Velasquez on 67 different occasions between June 2004 and December 2004. Had Sclafani and Baeza been convicted, they could have faced up to seven years in prison.

Baeza, a Hall of Fame rider, and Sclafani, who were at the trial, expressed relief after Judge Scarano cleared their names.

"For three years, I have been stall-walking," Baeza said. "It is a happy ending, but the damage is already done. You can’t take back those three years."

Sclafani said, "I’m relieved, but it really hasn’t sunk in yet. It is something that will be with me for the rest of my life. It definitely changed my life."

The trial, which was held in Ballston Spa, N.Y., began Sept. 4 and required five days of testimony.

Sclafani’s attorney, Todd Greenberg, said the investigators who gathered information for the indictment were not aware of the rules regarding equipment and what is allowed to be part of the weight carried by a rider without being reflected in the published weight.

"[Spitzer] didn’t understand the rules of racing," Greenberg said. "The overgirth, the helmet, the safety vest are not meant to be included [in the given weight], but the investigators never subtracted the extra weight that doesn’t count."

Spitzer charged Baeza and Sclafani with tampering with the outcome of a sports contest, scheming to defraud, falsifying records, conspiracy and grand larceny. The five jockeys included in the indictment were named as un-indicted co-conspirators, but no action was ever taken against them.

The 2006 indictment replaced an indictment that was released September 2005. After the first indictment was made public, a member of the grand jury addressed a letter to the media and public officials, criticizing the indictment as "political grandstanding."

John Prizzia, who argued the case and is the assistant attorney general under new Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, was not available for comment Sept. 17. Matt Toomey, a member of the press staff in the Attorney General's Albany office, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

—By Karen Johnson

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