By Bill Finley
A jury has ruled that Penn National-based trainer Murray Rojas was not guilty of charges of wire fraud and the conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a case that involved the alleged use of medications on race-day, after the required withdrawal time. However, Rojas was found guilty of the crime of “misbranding” animal drugs.
Rojas was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy charges related to 11 races at Penn National from Jan. 19 to Feb. 16, 2013, alleging that she conspired with veterinarians to administer substances to horses on race day in violation of Pennsylvania law and racing rules. The charges further stated that she try to conceal this conduct by backdating invoices for the drugs.
According to the website legaldictionary.com, wire fraud is “the crime of using an interstate wire, television or radio communications, or the Internet, in order to defraud someone.” Wire fraud charges were likely brought up by the prosecution because the races involved in the allegations were wagered on across state lines because of simulcasting.
“Trying to get federal jurisdiction on to something involving the racetrack, I considered that, from first time I got involved in the case, to be improper and overreaching using federal statutes,” said Rojas’s lawyer, Bob Goldman. “The type of activity they were looking at it is the type of activity more properly dealt with by racing commissions and state government. The federal indictments in this case, I believe, were unprecedented.”
Goldman said that had Rojas been found guilty of wire fraud she may have been facing prison time.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if she had been convicted on the wire fraud they would have been pushing for incarceration to polish off their stars,” he said.
Though his client was convicted on the misbranding charges, Goldman said Rojas was pleased by the news.
“She was very thrilled,” he said. “She is a remarkable women. It came out during the case that the federal government was muscling people into pleading guilty. Murray had the fortitude to stand up and refuse to plead guilty to what she didn’t do. She was thrilled to be acquitted on the wire fraud charges. Of course, she is still disappointed that they convicted her on any federal offense.”
With the mixed verdict, both sides were claiming victory yesterday.
“I am thrilled with the jury’s verdict in this case,” Federal prosecutor William Behe told the Paulick Report. “The overwhelming majority of individuals involved in horse racing are honest and abide by the rules. The betting public expects that. When you are able to put together a case against individuals who systematically and repeatedly break the rules by drugging their horses, it should not be a verdict that causes concern in the racing community. It should be one they welcome with open arms because I am confident the majority of the racing community has no time for people like Rojas who abuse the rules and cheat to win,” Paulick reported.
Goldman said he will appeal the misbranding charges and says he expects to win on appeal. During Rojas’s trial, there was testimony that she was among several Penn National trainers that violated rules by giving horses medications within hours of their racing. On appeal, Goldman said he will argue that misbranding does not apply in this case and is only applicable to someone who mislabels drugs. Misbranding charges are sometimes used against pharmacists. Goldman will argue that misbranding laws do not apply to trainers or veterinarians.
“They concocted this theory that any doctor that administers any drug commits misbranding, but that’s a misreading of the statute,” Goldman said. “As far as we are concerned they didn’t meet the standards on misbranding.”
Having been convicted on the misbranding charges, Rojas could still face penalties from the Pennsylvania Racing Commission.
“I do not believe the Pennsylvania Racing Commission should take disciplinary action against a woman who probably will be vindicated on appeal,” Goldman said.
A statement from the National HBPA read, “National HBPA has always been in favor and supportive of penalizing those within the racing industry who break or abuse racing’s regulatory rules. To that end, we have closely monitored the case in Pennsylvania involving trainer Murray Rojas because of the devastating implications this case could have on Thoroughbred horse racing. However, the Rojas case in Pennsylvania included charges that far exceeded the normal administrative penalties which should have been applied to these violations.
It is our belief penalties for a violation of a state administrative regulation, should be dealt with by the process currently in place, through the state’s racing commission which currently subjects a horse owner and trainer to fines and/or suspensions. For those same violations to be escalated to a federal criminal act subjecting the owner and trainer to jail time should be very concerning to all horsemen. The ramifications would likely destroy our industry. National HBPA believes the regulatory structure in place, providing for the states administration of the rules of racing should not be arbitrarily pre-empted by the federal government. While improvements can and should be made by states including Pennsylvania, the involvement of the federal government to invent violations of federal statutes that clearly do not fit the elements of the crimes charged is NOT the answer.
While we are not privy to all the specifics of the case, we support due process by the state administrative regulatory authorities. We are also pleased with the jury’s verdict of “not guilty” to all charges regarding wire fraud.”