Two senior New York Racing Association officials, including a onetime top jockey, were indicted Sept. 21 in state court on fraud and other charges as part of a scheme in which jockey weights were fabricated at NYRA tracks. Among those named as un-indicted co-conspirators were several well-known jockeys, including Jose Santos, who prosecutors said were aware of the scheme.
The 195-page indictment, unsealed by the New York State Attorney General's office as part of an investigation that began last December, charges NYRA clerk of scales Mario Sclafani, 48, and assistant clerk of scales Braulio Baeza, a Racing Hall of Fame member who won the Kentucky Derby in 1963, for their roles in falsely reporting jockey weights in races at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.
In response to the announcement, NYRA terminated the employment of Sclafani and Baeza effective immediately. NYRA suspended Sclafani and Baeza Jan. 12 when the allegations first came to light and appointed Timothy Kelly as acting clerk of scales.
"These two officials basically had one job to do, and that was to ensure that the weight of the jockeys was recorded accurately and then disclosed to bettors. Instead, they mislead the public and compromised the integrity of races run by NYRA," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who announced the indictment with State Police and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
Officials said NYRA originally passed on concerns about the matter to investigators.
The indictment alleges Sclafani and Baeza conspired with five prominent jockeys--Santos, Robby Albarado, Herberto Castillo Jr., Ariel Smith, and Cornelio Velasquez--on 67 different occasions between June 2004 and December 2004 to allow them to ride when they weighed as much as 15 pounds over their announced weight.
"Co-conspirator jockeys then rode horses in races and thereby caused the horses to carry in excess of five pounds over the designated weight," the indictment alleges. "In so doing, the defendants, acting in concert with the co-conspirator jockeys, fraudulently obtained compensation from the owners for riding, and deprived bettors of hundreds of thousands of dollars by misrepresenting the jockey's weights and thereby tricked said bettors in to betting on said horses."
The indictment was unsealed in Saratoga County Court. The case is significant, officials said, because up until now, the problems at NYRA have been on the administrative side of operations. This case, they said, is the first to directly affect racing operations.
"This multi-state investigation has disclosed serious integrity issues surrounding the accurate disclosure to the betting public of the weights of jockeys and has brought to justice the officials involved in this fraud," State Police superintendent Wayne Bennett said.
The charges against Sclafani and Baeza include scheme to defraud in the first degree, conspiracy in the fifth degree, falsifying business records in the first degree, tampering with a sports contest in the second degree, grand larceny, and other charges. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Sclafani was arraigned Sept. 21 in Saratoga County court and pled not guilty. Baeza will be arraigned Oct. 6.
The races with the allegedly tampered weights occurred at all three NYRA tracks, and bettors placed more than $300,000 in win bets on horses in the races. The indictment says bettors had no way of knowing they were betting on overweight jockeys. The indictment alleges the defendants made the false entries to cover up the fact the jockeys were overweight.
Since the suspension of Sclafani and Baeza, NYRA said it has instituted a number of reforms, including the use of digital scales at each of its three racetracks. The clerk of scales is responsible for reporting the correct weight of every jockey.
NYRA president and chief executive officer Charles Hayward emphasized the association's role in initiating the investigation, and its ongoing commitment to complete transparency to ensure the integrity of racing.
"NYRA initiated the investigation into these alleged improprieties two years ago, and we have cooperated fully with all government and law enforcement agencies," Hayward said. "While we would certainly be disappointed if these allegations are true, we have clearly demonstrated that good conduct is good business throughout our entire organization.
"This is especially important in the racing department to protect all of our stakeholders and the integrity of Thoroughbred racing."
The investigation of possible misconduct was initiated by the Special Oversight Committee of the NYRA board of trustees two years ago, and was pursued by its own internal security department and by Safir Rosetti, NYRA's outside security consultants at the time. In December, NYRA handed over to the Attorney General's office all of the information it had collected pertaining to the allegations.
NYRA officials said it was too soon to determine what action, if any, might be taken against the jockeys named in the indictment papers. "We didn't know the names of the jockeys or that jockeys were going to be named. We've not had time to inject the enormity of the indictment," said Bill Nader, a NYRA vice president. Nader said NYRA will be meeting with state regulators next week about the matter.
Officials with the state Racing and Wagering Board, which granted the licenses of the jockeys, are reviewing the indictment and declined comment on any possible action it might take.