New Jersey Horsemen Assets Frozen for Probe

A state judge has frozen the assets of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association pending a racing commission investigation into the group' finances.

The order, issued on Christmas Eve by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Clarkson Fisher, restricts the THA's spending to essential expenses. The group represents the state's horse owners, trainers and backstretch employees.

In an internal memo circulated in October, Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the New Jersey Racing Commission, alleged the New Jersey THA improperly spent nearly $800,000 in legal fees and political contributions from its bookkeeper's interest fund, including inflated fees to Dennis Drazin, a prominent county attorney and horse owner. Zanzuccki suggested the leadership of the New Jersey THA be removed, and that the attorney general investigate his charges of fiscal mismanagement.

At the same time, the THA cut health care benefits to low-income employees who work in the stables.

In his 13-page decision, Fisher ruled the THA's spending will be limited to health and benefits for its members during the investigation.

"The reduction in health care benefits for backstretch personnel, when compared to an alleged urgency to line the pockets of politicians to the tune of $100,000, is -- in a word -- disproportionate, and raises serious questions about whether the NJTHA is fulfilling its fiduciary obligations," Fisher wrote.

Drazin and Francis "Bud" Keegan, the THA's president, have defended the association's actions, saying the money was spent with the permission of the state courts and in the best interests of the association's members.