State racing regulators in New York March 10 summarily suspended the licenses of 11 individuals tied to a doping scandal that has rocked the racing industry, including prominent conditioners Jason Servis, trainer of champion Maximum Security, and multiple grade 1-winning trainer Jorge Navarro.
The suspensions, which go into effect immediately in New York and in states that offer reciprocity for disciplinary actions by New York, come one day after federal prosecutors secured criminal indictments against the trainers and others for seeking to enhance the performance of horses over multiple years. Typically other racing jurisdictions have offered such reciprocity and will recognize New York's license suspensions.
The suspensions come in advance of other actions regulators in New York may take, including permanent revocations of licenses to work in the state and hefty fines that can total up to $25,000 for each rule violation. Twenty-seven individuals in several states were charged by prosecutors in Manhattan in criminal cases that could bring lengthy prison sentences if they are convicted.
"These allegations are troubling and go to the heart of horse racing integrity,'' the gaming commission said Tuesday in a statement.
The agency said it contacted the New York State Police when it learned of the alleged criminal acts and has worked cooperatively since then. The agency did not say when it first heard of the doping schemes.
"Racing has no room for those who seek to manipulate outcomes at the expense of the wagering public and the health of the equine athlete. We trust that any proven allegation will be dealt with severely,'' the agency said.
The case is being led by the U.S. Attorney's office in lower Manhattan, one of the busy federal prosecution offices that often handles high-profile cases involving political corruption, financial industry and other corporate crimes, and terrorism matters.
The Gaming Commission set March 18 for hearings in the 11 suspensions. Whether those hearings occur, or are delayed by lawyers for the criminal defendants, is uncertain.
The commission issued three separate suspension orders. One was against Navarro and Servis, along with Henry Argueta, Alexander Chan, Rick Dane Jr., Christopher Oakes, Kristian Rhein, Nicolas Surick, and Michael Tannuzzo. It said their licenses were summarily suspended—a power of the agency to halt their participation in racing immediately prior to a hearing—because of the potential for "public harm."
While the indicted are innocent until proven guilty in court, racing regulators have held license holders to a higher standard. They have used the summary suspension option to protect the integrity of the sport from the potential scandal of an indicted person participating in racing while a trial proceeds.
The suspension order against those nine individuals, trainers, assistant trainers, and track vets, said they engaged in "widespread criminal schemes to provide and cause illegal drugs to be used by racehorses" from about Jan. 2018-Oct. 2019. It said Dane and Rhein's participation in alleged crimes date as far back as Aug. 13. The agency said the schemes included misbranding of performance-enhancing drugs and illegal shipment of drugs.
Some of the indicted, including Navarro and Servis, allegedly administered blood doping agents "capable of abnormally enhancing the oxygenation of body tissues to racehorses," in violation of racing rules.
The agency raised the possibility that horses raced in violation of state rules and laws could also face disqualification from any race and loss of purses awarded. Those sanctions would impact owners.
A separate suspension order was issued against Scott Mangini, who the agency said collaborated to operate online sites where the performance-enhancing drugs could be purchased. It said his "misconduct" began in 2011 and that illegal substances were ordered by individuals racing horses in New York.
A third suspension order was released against Conor Flynn. The agency said his license to participate in racing as a groom was immediately suspended because he "participated in a scheme to make, distribute and administer misbranded and adulterated PEDs.''
On Tuesday, Keeneland issued the following statement from president and CEO Bill Thomason in response to the federal indictments:
"The administration of illegal medication and other improper substances to our equine athletes, as outlined by the indictments brought forth by federal prosecutors, is simply unacceptable. Putting profits and self-interest over the safety and integrity of our sport and its athletes has never, and will never, be tolerated by Keeneland. As the legal proceedings against the individuals identified by federal prosecutors unfold, the Thoroughbred racing community must continue to strengthen our screening processes.
"In the meantime, Keeneland will suspend the individuals in question from participating in training, racing or sales activities on our property. We have faith in the legal system and appreciate the work of the federal law enforcement, including the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney's office. Ensuring the safety and well-being of these horses will always be our top priority."
The arraignments for both Navarro and Servis are scheduled to take place March 23 in New York at 3:30 p.m. ET, during which they will be allowed to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The trainers are each facing two counts of "Misbranding Conspiracy" which carries a maximum penalty of five years.
Harness trainer Nick Surick faces counts of "Misbranding Conspiracy" and "Obstruction." The maximum penalty for obstruction is 20 years.
The arraignment schedules for additional New York defendants are as follows:
United States v. Sarah Izhaki and Ashley Lebowitz (20 Cr. 161, MKV) – March 23 at 3:30 p.m.
United States v. Louis Grasso, et al. (20 Cr. 163, PKC) – March 17 at 2:30 p.m.
The arraignment for United States v. Scott Robinson and Scott Mangini (20 Cr. 162, JPO)—not yet scheduled.
While conditions regarding bail were varied, for those defendants who were presented in the Manhattan federal court, the court required that they have no contact with racehorses without the presence of the third party owner of the premises where each horse is stabled.
Additional defendants named in the indictment were arrested in the following districts: Southern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Southern District of Indiana, Central District of California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Eastern District of Kentucky.