West Virginia racing stewards have suspended Randy Wehrman for two years because of integrity issues raised after the former Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races racing secretary received an alleged $700 loan from a local horseman.
A tangential issue that came up during the investigation of Wehrman's actions led to a 10-day suspension of Chief Steward Danny Wright. It was discovered that Wright was employed by John McKee, the same owner/trainer who said he loaned Wehrman $700 in November. Charles Town fired Wehrman in December.
On Feb. 5, the stewards announced their decision to revoke Wehrman's occupational permit for two years. If Wehrman wishes to reapply for a license after that period, he will have to do it through the racing commission.
Wehrman plans to appeal the stewards' decision to the full West Virginia Racing Commission.
In the Jan. 17 hearing before the stewards, Wehrman never testified about the financial transaction but McKee acknowledged making the loan through a check written by Charles Town owner/trainer Cynthia O'Bannon. McKee, O'Bannon, and Wehrman all said that the loan did not affect any decisions regarding stall allotments, racing conditions, or entries. McKee noted that Wehrman did repay the loan.
"I just thought I was helping a family friend in a bad spot," said McKee at the Jan. 17 hearing, noting that Wehrman needed the money to pay rent. "I don't think I got any special consideration on stalls or starts because of the loan."
But the stewards thought the transaction was inappropriate because of their relative positions, noting that Wehrman's request and receiving of the money compromises, or potentially compromises, his impartiality. The stewards also fined McKee $1,500 and O'Bannon $750.
"Although Wehrman, McKee, and O'Bannon may have seen the exchange of money as a loan between friends, the relative positions of the parties on the racetrack cannot be ignored by the stewards and should not have been disregarded by the parties," the stewards said in their Feb. 5 decision. "The situation at hand presents a clear conflict of interest which is contrary to the best interests of racing."
Wehrman said the loan did not influence any decisions. Wehrman was not the only person involved in stall allotments and writing race conditions as committees have oversight of those tasks at Charles Town.
"My decisions didn't affect the outcome of a race in any way," Wehrman said at the Jan. 17 hearing.
Trevor Hewick, a board member of the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the decision was outrageous and susceptible to appeal to the WVRC or courts.
"You're going to have every racing secretary in the country nervous that if someone forgets their wallet and they loan them $10 for lunch that they could lose their license," said Hewick, a former police investigator. "The fines against John and Cynthia violate due process. They were witnesses at the hearing. They weren't being investigated. The whole thing is pathetic."
During the investigation, McKee mentioned that Wright had been working at his farm. That revelation led to a West Virginia Racing Commission investigation of its chief steward.
WVRC executive director Jon Amores said the commission learned Wright had been assisting building a barn at McKee's farm. The racing commission decided that Wright's employment was a conflict of interest and suspended him for 10 days. Wright, who did not participate in the January hearing on Wehrman, is to serve that suspension beginning Feb. 12.
"We found that the chief steward was working, building a barn, for a horseman," Amores said. "That was a violation of the conflict of interest policy the commission has, so we suspended him."
Amores added that if Wright had revealed the potential conflict of interest ahead of time and received permission to do the job, it would not have been a violation.
Also Feb. 5, Charles Town announced it had hired a new racing secretary in Charles McIntosh, who has served as an official for three years in the track's racing office.
Wehrman was named racing secretary at Charles Town in 2008 after working as a racing secretary at Colonial Downs for two years. He had worked as a racing official previously at Charles Town as well as at Keeneland, Penn National Race Course, River Downs, and Turfway Park.