Racehorse Doping Scandal Nowhere Near Finish Line

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The March 2020 indictments of more than two dozen individuals alleged to have been involved in a racehorse doping scheme that dated back at least nine years drew major national headlines, but it took a beat seat in the news days later to developments about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

And as 2021 begins, there is no sign that the charges against the core defendants — including fabled Monmouth Park trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis — will be settled anytime soon.

A federal judge has set a Feb. 5 deadline for defense motions to dismiss any or all charges, with objections by the prosecution due on March 5 and replies due three weeks later.

The defendants also have been given until May 24 to file additional motions that may arise after a full review of the scope of the prosecution’s evidence.

Judge sets a series of deadlines

“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all time between the date of this Order and May 14, 2021 is excluded for the purposes of the Speedy Trial Act,” U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of New York’s Southern District wrote on Nov. 16.
“The Court finds that the ends of justice served by allowing time for Defendants to receive outstanding discover — which all Parties have described as voluminous — analyze such discovery, strategize regarding potential motion practice, prepare both dispositive and other motions in advance of the deadlines set out herein, and to prepare a defense or work toward resolution of this action, outweigh the interests of the public and Defendants in a speedy trial, especially in light of the continued complications presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In what is known as a “superseding indictment,” also filed in November, U.S. Attorney Andrew Adams told Vyskocil, “There may well be other crimes as to the particular defendants in this case, and [the government]  is continuing to look at other people who are not currently charged.”
Servis, who is named in a new federal count in the latest indictment, and 13 other defendants filed not guilty charges at that time.
With tens of thousands of audio tapes from wiretaps and more than 100,000 files among the evidence, an attorney for one of the defendants said, “I’ve been a federal defender for 25 years in the Southern District and this is the greatest volume of discovery I’ve seen.”

Two cases settled, five others unclear

There have been two guilty pleas in the case so far: Sarah Izhaki and Scott Robinson, on charges of conspiring to unlawfully distribute adulterated and misbranded drugs for the purpose of doping racehorses.
“Scott Robinson and Sarah Izhaki represent the supply side of a market of greed that continues to endanger racehorses through the sale of performance-enhancing drugs,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss announced in September. “Each of these defendants provided the raw materials for fraud and animal abuse through the sale of unregulated and dangerous substances: Robinson’s products were manufactured in shoddy facilities with no professional oversight of their composition; Izhaki’s products were smuggled into the country and sold from cars in supermarket parking lots.”
The offenses carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The fate of five men is unclear, as they were indicted in March but then dropped from the superseding version of the case in November: Nicholas Surick, veterinarian Gregory Skelton, Ross Cohen, Henry Argueta, and Christopher Marino.
Surick is a well-known trainer of standardbred horses at the Meadowlands Racetrack as well as of thoroughbreds who race at Monmouth Park.

Laying out the alleged scheme

The original indictment alleged a “widespread, corrupt scheme by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, PED distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses under scheme participants’ control.
“By evading PED prohibitions and deceiving regulators and horse racing authorities, among others, participants sought to improve race performance and obtain prize money from racetracks throughout the United States and other countries, including in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the United Arab Emirates(“UAE”), all to the detriment and risk of the health and well-being of the racehorses.”
Servis and Surick each had addressed widespread rumors about the source of their racing success prior to the indictments, with Servis calling the accusations “embarrassing” and Surick saying, “I don’t want to be known as a cheater.
Navarro, who won seven consecutive titles as top trainer at Monmouth Park before he had his New Jersey license suspended in the wake of his indictment, trained XY Jet, who won the $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen race in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
The horse died last January, which Navarro announced was due to a “heart attack.”

Servis was the trainer of Maximum Security, who appeared to have won the 2019 Kentucky Derby before that victory was taken down in unprecedented fashion over a ruling of interference with fellow horses.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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