By Bill Finley
NEW YORK, NY-Disgraced former trainer Jason Servis was sentenced to four years in prison by judge Mary Kay Vyskocil in U.S. District Court in Manhattan Wednesday. Servis, one of more than two dozen people charged after a wide-ranging investigation by the FBI into horse doping, had earlier pled guilty to one felony count and one misdemeanor count related to the use of the banned substances Clenbuterol and SGF-1000.
“You deliberately engaged in illegal conduct for years,” Vsykocil told Servis. “This was not a one-time offense or an aberration. Your doing so put the lives of the horses and the jockeys who rode them at risk. You caused staggering losses to multiple competitors, making more than 25 million in purses. You reaped huge financial rewards because of your criminal conduct.”
Four years was the maximum sentence that Vyskocil could have levied against Servis for the guilty pleas on the two counts. Before entering into a plea agreement with the government, Servis faced up to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Those charges were dropped when Servis plead guilty to the lesser charges.
Servis, 66, addressed the court briefly, breaking down in tears before he gave his statement. Servis was so emotional that Vyskocil considered taking a recess in order for Servis to compose himself, but his lawyer, Rita Glavin, said that wouldn't be necessary.
“No words can explain how remorseful and sorry I am over the decisions I've made and the people I've let down, and the people I've hurt, mostly my wife and two sons,” he said. “I will live with this the rest of my life and I am most truly sorry and I throw myself at the mercy of the court.”
Government attorney Sarah Mortazavi told the court that not only had Servis used performance-enhancing drugs to gain an advantage for his horses but he was slow to concede that he had done anything wrong. Part of Servis's defense was that veterinarians assured him that it was not illegal to use SGF-1000. She noted that both the New York Gaming Commission and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium had made it clear that the use of SGF-1000 was prohibited.
“Jason Servis knew that using these drugs was a problem and was illicit and he tried to hide it,” Mortazavi said. “He thought he knew better than two oversight bodies and he assumed he could continue his conduct uninterrupted and that he would be fine. He was wrong.”
Glavin, a high-profile New York attorney who represented former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over sexual misconduct charges, did not deny that Servis had done wrong. But in an attempt to get a sentence of less than four years for her client, she tried to make a case that his offenses were relatively minor when compared to the conduct of other trainers and veterinarians who had come before the same court on charges related to doping.
“SGF-1000 and Clenbuterol, those are substances that are qualitatively different from what was going on with other trainers in this case,” she said as part of a lengthy address to the court. “People have been sentenced to just 36 months or less for conduct that is far more egregious.”
She continued, reeling off a list of names of both Thoroughbred and Standardbred trainers who had previously been sentenced: “Mr. Servis is not Jorge Navarro, he is not Rene Allard or Richard Banca. He is not Louis Grasso, Rick Dane, Jr., Marcos Zulueta or Chris Oakes. But what he did was wrong. Painfully wrong. He will be going to jail and during that time his 90-year-old parents, who are not in good health, could pass away. This is not an easy case, but there's something different with Mr. Servis's case when you look at his conduct and we ask you to take that into consideration.”
Vyskocil was not swayed by Glavin's argument that Servis was somehow less of a cheat than others when had also been convicted and sentenced.
“You cheated, you lied and you broke the law,” the judge said. “You did endanger the horses in your care. Luckily, they didn't break down. You tried to gain an unfair advantage. I hope you accept that but I don't think that you do. At the end of the day, unquestionably, you undermined the integrity of horse racing.”
Vyskocil seemed frustrated by the fact that, under the plea agreement, she could not sentence Servis to a term of more than four years.
“Your counsel served you very well,” she said. “She got an outstanding plea deal for you. As a result, the maximum sentence you face is 48 months. I see no reason to go below it. In my judgment, more than 48 months might have been appropriate.”
Vyskocil also made note of Servis's association with Navarro, who was sentenced to five years on charges similar to what Servis faced. Servis and Navarro were caught on government wiretaps comparing notes on their doping programs. Servis would acquire a bronchodilator from Navarro that is believed to be more potent than Clenbuterol.
“You turned to one of the most notorious drug abusers in the industry,” she said.
Glavin noted that Servis wished that he never got involved with Navarro.
“In conversations with me, Mr. Servis said that this greatest regret in life was his association with Jorge Navarro,” said Glavin. “Navarro ended up in the barn next to him and that was how it happened.”
Servis must report for sentencing on November 1. In addition to the prison sentence, he has had to make a payment of $311,760 in forfeiture and was ordered to pay $163,932 in restitution and a $30,000 fine.