By T. D. Thornton
The federal judge in charge of the alleged racehorse doping case involving trainers Jorge Navarro, Jason Servis, and 18 other defendants has set Apr. 2 as the new arraignment date.
Court closures related to COVID-19 have already caused two postponements of the arraignment since Mar 23. In an effort to avoid another delay, the judge has ordered this Thursday’s arraignment to be conducted via conference call.
United States District Court (Southern District of New York) Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil also wrote in the Mar. 27 order that the missed time between the original arraignment date and the new one won’t count in the defendants’ favor under the Speedy Trail Act.
She wrote that the reason for excluding that time lag is because of both the current health crisis and the “voluminous” load of evidence that prosecutors plan to introduce.
Servis is the former trainer of 3-year-old champion Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) and Navarro is a seven-time leading Monmouth Park trainer who has conditioned numerous graded stakes winners. Both won races at an astounding 29% clip over the past three years, and thus are the two highest-profile defendants facing felony drug misbranding charges. According to published reports from when the charges were first announced, both trainers are expected to plead not guilty.
“All Defendants have either waived personal appearance at the arraignment or have indicated an intention to waive appearance,” the order states. “As a result, the arraignment and initial conference in this case will be held telephonically.”
“It is further ordered that…all time through April 2, 2020, shall be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act as the ends of justice served by exclusion of such time outweighs the interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial.
“The Court has been advised that the discovery in this case is voluminous and the exclusion of time will facilitate discussions regarding the production and review of discovery,” the order continued. “The Court also finds that the exclusion of time is appropriate in light of the COVID-19 health crisis, and in order to protect the health of all parties to this case and their counsel as well as the health of the public.”
The other defendants in the case are Erica Garcia, Marcos Zulueta, Michael Tannuzzo, Gregory Skelton, Ross Cohen, Seth Fishman, Lisa Giannelli, Jordan Fishman, Rick Dane, Jr, Christopher Oakes, Kristian Rhein, Michael Kegley, Jr, Alexander Chan, Henry Argueta, Nicholas Surick, Rebecca Linke and Christopher Marino.
When the federal indictments were unsealed Mar. 9, court documents alleged that Servis, in an intercepted June 2019 phone call, expressed concerns to Rhein, a veterinarian, that Maximum Security was going to test dirty for a customized performance-enhancing drug called SGF-1000 that Rhein had allegedly supplied. Rhein allegedly told Servis not to worry, because “They don’t even have a test for it in America.”
In another intercepted phone call between Navarro and Tannuzzo, a New York-based trainer, Navarro allegedly recounted a close call with a regulator at Gulfstream Park who almost walked in on the outfit’s alleged pre-race doping regimen.
“He would have caught our asses [expletive] pumping and pumping and fuming every [expletive] horse [that ran] today,” Navarro allegedly admitted.