Trial Date Set for Northern California Horse Owners

By Jack Shinar
A March 4, 2002, trial date has been set for Northern California Thoroughbred owners Michele Serrao and Bryan Rosenquist in connection with allegations the couple embezzled $12.7 million from Bank of America.

Serraro, 41, and Rosenquist, 39, who raced horses in California under their own names and as part of Bella Thoroughbreds, a ranch located in Vallejo, California will stand trial in U.S. District Court in Oakland. They remain in federal custody, where they have been held without bail since their arrest Sept. 26.

A receiver, Steve Anderson, has been appointed to take over the racing operation of about 60 horses, as well as the business of the 60-acre ranch, where another 50 horses, mostly broodmares and lay-ups, were being kept at the time of the arrest. Anderson's application for a racing license has been approved by the California Horse Racing Board, according to a spokesman.

But as of Nov. 21, the Northern California stewards, who suspended the defendants' racing licenses in mid-October, have not been notified of any hearing to remove the horses from the stewards' list, which must occur before they can be returned to racing, said steward Dennis Nevin. Anderson and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Serrao and Rosenquist are accused of fraud and conspiracy in one of the largest vault thefts in California history, according to the FBI. If convicted, they face prison sentences of up to 30 years.

Authorities allege that they used their positions with cash transport specialist Loomis, Fargo & Co., to siphon off B of A automated teller funds. Rosenquist, who was in charge of security at Loomis' Bay Area vault facility, and Serrao, who assisted him in counting cash and signing off account books, allegedly took $635,000 in $20 bills, starting in January 2000. When they were arrested, they had at least $3.4 million in personal bank accounts, say authorities.

More than $9 million remains unaccounted for. Much of the missing money could be tied up in the Thoroughbred operation. There are a total of 111 horses involved, all told, as well as racing mules and other livestock.

About 50 of the horses, mostly lower level claimers, were in training at the time of the arrests, with nine trainers, the majority in Northern California.

Nevin said he believed that all of the horses at the northern tracks have been moved off the Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows grounds, turned out to either the Bella Thoroughbreds ranch or other locations.

"It's a way for the trainers to recoup some of their losses," Nevin said. "It's expensive to keep them (at the track) when you can't race them."

One Southern California trainer, Joshua Litt, conditioned nine runners for Serrao. He still has five of them in his barn at Santa Anita, and he says it is killing his business. "It has been terrible. Her horses accounted for 75 percent of my stable, and I can't race them," Litt said. "Keeping them is so expensive and the costs just multiply every day."

He said he kept the five in the barn so he can have them ready to enter in races when they come off the stewards' list. Litt calculates that he's owed more than $40,000 by Serrao. He said he has gotten a court order to sell the horses if he has to, but that the receiver, Anderson, has asked him not to.

"All I can tell you is that the management of this entire matter has been ridiculous from the very beginning (since the arrests)," Litt said. "Dealing with the FBI and now the courts ... If I had any idea that this was going to happen, I never would have taken the business."