Former NYRA Investigator Says He Was Fired

A former outside counsel for the New York Racing Association claims he was fired in 2011 in the midst of performing two separate “integrity investigations” of the organization.

Neil Getnick, a Manhattan attorney who previously had been appointed by a federal court to provide business integrity oversight work for NYRA, said he was fired by top NYRA board members after seeking to provide potential corruption information to an oversight committee of the NYRA board. The charges were made in a federal bankruptcy court case in which NYRA sought to end its ties with Getnick.

Details of what may be in the lawyer’s reports are unavailable because they are considered, for now, privileged documents between Getnick and NYRA, his former client. Getnick, the court papers say, provided a copy of his ongoing investigations to all NYRA board members, who have never made the documents public.

“The legal filing speaks for itself,” Getnick said May 25. He declined to elaborate on the case.

A NYRA spokesman declined comment.

But a source close to NYRA with knowledge of Getnick's work said Getnick's information was provided to the board, but only after Getnick had been fired, and that the lawyer's findings were rejected. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted Getnick, despite his monitoring role, also did not catch the pari-mutuel takeout error in which bettors were charged higher rates on exotic bets.

The source close to NYRA also noted that Getnick's report was shared with multiple state agencies, and that those agencies have the ability, if they want, to make Getnick's information available to the public.

Getnick was retained in 2007 for a five-year contract worth up to $1.5 million per year.  Getnick, in court papers, maintains his March 10, 2011, firing by NYRA broke a contract and court order.

Getnick in 2004 was tapped by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn to keep an eye on NYRA operations as part of a legal settlement with the operator of Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course. In his court filing, Getnick said state investigators in recent months have sought information from his firm about NYRA as part of various probes under way involving NYRA.

NYRA, which earlier in the week of May 20 agreed to have its board taken over by state-appointed trustees for the next three years, is being examined for everything from a pari-mutuel takeout scandal to the high number of equine deaths at Aqueduct this winter.

Getnick said NYRA has blocked requests by state regulators seeking information from him. The court papers say NYRA has asserted attorney-client privileges and that Getnick cannot provide documents or other information to racing regulators or others looking into NYRA operations.

NYRA claimed it’s involved in a “fee dispute” with Getnick. The Manhattan lawyer said he wants to be paid for work up until the middle of 2011, but that funds due him for the remaining year of his contract can be paid to the state of New York.

NYRA was indicted in 2003 in an episode stemming from a tax-evasion scheme by betting clerks. Getnick’s hiring was part of the settlement agreement between NYRA and federal prosecutors.

When that oversight period ended, Getnick remained with NYRA as outside integrity counsel beginning in 2007.

In 2010, Getnick claims, NYRA “ceased to provide information critical” to his monitoring work, a move he said amounted to a fundamental breach of his contract with NYRA. The following February, the court papers say, Getnick sought to provide information about his work with a special committee of the NYRA board.

Instead, he said, two NYRA officials, including board chairman C. Steven Duncker, fired him via telephone. Three months later, Getnick said he submitted reports about two separate integrity matters to the full NYRA board. He described it as a 36-page report, complete with 65 exhibits.

The court papers say the Getnick report pertains, at least partly, to the state’s investigation into higher-than-permitted takeout rates on exotic bets at NYRA over a 15-month period, which cost bettors $8.5 million. Getnick claims he “wishes to cooperate with the state’s investigation, but has been blocked by NYRA from doing so.”

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