Samuel Webb, one of three trainers and four people facing federal fraud charges following arrests in November at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, had those charges dismissed June 5.
U.S. District Court Judge William Caldwell of the Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed both counts of a federal indictment against Webb, saying the government's allegations failed to meet the definitions of the two charges.
The decision appears to be a blow to law enforcement officials who argue that drugging horses violates federal laws because races are sent out for interstate wagering. The argument would be that fraud occurs when bettors are duped into wagering against horses running with illegal performance-enhancing drugs or on horses running on illegal performance-detracting drugs.
But in dismissing the charges, the court agreed with Webb's argument that the government was attempting to "convert a misdemeanor under Pennsylvania law ... into a federal crime."
The court agreed with Webb's motion to dismiss a wire fraud charge because the court found no allegation that he had used interstate wire communications or attempted to use such communications to further the alleged fraudulent scheme. Also, the court agreed the indictment did not allege that the scheme was aided by the presence of pari-mutuel wagering.
One detail that appears to be an important one in the Webb case is that the horse he allegedly injected or intended to inject with an illegal substance, Papaleo, never started as he was scratched by the stewards before his planned May 2, 2013, start at Penn National. This would have made it impossible for Webb to bet on or against his horse, or anyone else to wager on him.
"We agree with the defendant that the count does not allege wire fraud," the court ruled.
The court also threw out a related charge of a travel act offense in which interstate facilities are used to facilitate or make easier an unlawful activity. The court agreed with the defendant that the presence of a pari-mutuel wagering system at Penn National did not facilitate the defendant's alleged rigging of horse races by doping horses.
The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission suspended Webb for two months (June 10-Aug. 8) last year for possessing syringes on the backstretch. He was fined $500 for lying about the incident. Webb again was suspended Nov. 22 pending resolution of the federal charges.
The federal court's decision could impact the related cases of trainers David Wells and Patricia Anne Rogers, as well as track clocker Danny Robertson, who all were arrested in November and indicted by a federal grand jury.
Like Webb, Wells and Rogers face charges related to defrauding the betting public by attempting to administer, and administering in violation of state racing rules and regulations, substances prohibited from being introduced into a horse within 24 hours of when the horse is scheduled to race. Robertson faced charges for allegedly falsifying workout times, which government officials say is a federal crime because the workouts were reported to outlets across state lines.
In Webb's case, the court was not willing to connect any doping or drug violations to federal crimes. Pretrial motions in Webb's case are due July 14, the same date jury selection is scheduled to begin for Rogers' case. Jury selection for Robertson's case has been set for Aug. 4.