Day At The Track

Harness racing trainers plead not guilty

05:00 PM 03 Apr 2020 NZDT
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Trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis entered pleas of not guilty to federal charges of involvement in a misbranding conspiracy during an April 2 teleconference arraignment before United States District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.

Navarro and Servis are among 19 defendants in United States vs. Jorge Navarro, et al., who face misbranding charges stemming from the March 9 indictments of the two trainers and 25 others in four separate cases of conspiracies to manufacture, distribute, and administer adulterated or misbranded performance-enhancing drugs that were administered to racehorses.

All 19 of the defendants entered a plea of not guilty in a case presented by the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York. Navarro and Ross Cohen, a former harness racing trainer, were the only defendants who participated in the call. The rest were represented by their attorney.

Navarro said little more than "not guilty" during the arraignment.

Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Adams said during the arraignment that the evidence collected by the government was voluminous, with much of it from wiretaps, leading to projections of a discovery period that could last for about six months. That would likely push the start of the trial into 2021.

In describing the case, Adams said it was a case that has "focused on doping and the use of performance-enhancing drugs to win professional horse races in the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries. It has involved a number of different forms information-collecting that would include in-person meetings and covertly recorded meetings by confidential sources. It cites a number of wiretaps over a series of phones and in a total span of one year of time."

The federal prosecutor assigned to the case added that there were search warrants for a place "where a horse under Mr. Servis' control was located, and at a bar, and what the government will describe as a small pharmacy controlled by (defendant Christopher Oakes)." He also said there were warrants and searches of several cell phones, bank records, and "the fruits of grand jury investigations."

Adams said that roughly 17 of the 19 defendants had at least one cell phone seized by the government and computers were also taken for evidence.

He said the investigation is still going on and there could be additional indictments pending the information gleaned from records and documents still coming into the government.

Attorney Robert Baum, counsel for defendant Alexander Chan, spoke on behalf of a consortium of the defendants' attorneys, saying wire taps involved seven defendants and there are "tens of thousands" of conversations. He added that motions being contemplated will be "extremely lengthy, complex and extensive. We are talking about motions involving the wire taps, search warrants, statements, the seizure of physical evidence. There may be motions attacking the government's intent to resent scientific evidence."

During the proceedings, which were conducted by teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Judge Vyskocil ordered the government and counsel for all of the defendants to submit a revised bail agreement to her by April 6.

The indictment claims Navarro "executed this scheme by using PEDs designed to evade drug tests, physically concealing containers of PEDs and drug paraphernalia from state regulators and racing officials, administering and directing others to covertly administer PEDs, and shipping certain products designed to mask the presence of PEDs through a straw purchaser."

It also charged that Servis "orchestrated a widespread scheme of covertly obtaining and administering adulterated and misbranded PEDs, including a PED called SGF-1000, to virtually all of the racehorses under his control."

Navarro is a seven-time leading trainer at Monmouth Park and the leader at the 2018-19 Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park, while Servis is best known for training the 2019 3-year-old champion male, Maximum Security, who won the $20 million Saudi Cup Feb. 29 and was disqualified from first to 17th for a racetrack foul in last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

On the indictment, the defendants are listed in order as Navarro, Erica Garcia, Marcos Zulueta, Michael Tannuzzo, Gregory Skelton, Cohen, Seth Fishman, Lisa Giannelli, Jordan Fishman, Rick Dane Jr., Oakes, Servis, Kristian Rhein, Michael Kegley Jr., Chan, Henry Argueta, Nicholas Surick, Rebecca Linke and Christopher Marino.

By Bob Ehalt

Reprinted with permission of the Bloodhorse

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