By Bill Finley
Trainer Bob Baffert has sued well-known Twitter (now known as X) posters Justin Wunderler and Daniel DiCorcia for defamation and extortion over frequent posts on the social media website, which Baffert's lawyers contend amounted to “a series of escalating threats and criminal conduct,” adding that the defendants “have urged others to engage in violent behavior toward Baffert and his family, baselessly accused Baffert of criminal conduct, and attempted to extort Baffert and his family under threats to his business, reputation, and occupational license.”
The suit goes on to allege that Wunderler and DiCorcia attempted to extort money from Baffert in exchange for them not releasing information they contended would be so damaging that it would end Baffert's career.
Wunderler goes by “Swifthitter” on Twitter and DiCorcia posts under the name of “barshoelife.” The suit was filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, by Baffert and Bob Baffert Racing Stables, Inc.
The Paulick Report and the San Diego Union-Tribune were among the first to report the story.
“Bob Baffert has continued to put the sport of horse racing in a bad light,” Wunderler said in a reply to a direct message sent through Twitter. “This is not extortion. I want to do what's best for horse racing and what is best for the sport's longevity. Too many horses under his care have died. It's time we speak up for the horses that have no say. I want nothing from Bob Baffert or any of his associates. I want what's best for the game I love, horse racing.”
According to the suit, Wunderler recently received a judgment of conviction for criminal online harassment and a subsequent money judgment against the victim, a former girlfriend, for publishing intimate photos online without the ex-girlfriend's consent. Just this week, Wunderler began to reveal that online that he had a serious gambling problem, which, he said, came about after he got addicted to the drug Adderall.
Wunderler's attacks continued after the news of the lawsuit broke. A post he put online Wednesday evening read: “Bob Baffert has continued to kill horses. As in Pastor T. When will California and Horse Racing step up and ban this man.” The posts is accompanied by a picture of a horse, prone on the racetrack after apparently breaking down.
As of deadline for this story, DiCorcia had not responded to a similar direct message. DiCorcia sells apparel online, where his followers can buy a T-shirt clearly aimed at Baffert, which replaces the two f's in his name with a pair of syringes.
Wunderler has made dozens of posts contending he has a video of Baffert doing something so nefarious that if it is released it will end Baffert's career. In one tweet, he wrote “There is a video out there that will end Baffert.” He also tweeted that, when it comes to the video the New York Times and Washington Post “have reached out.”
“Upon information and belief, the videos are deceptively edited to cast Baffert and his staff in a false light, and the intent to publish such videos was not to foster the quest for truth but to gain social media followers through the sensationalist nature of such falsehoods,” the suit contends.
The Baffert suit includes a laundry list of additional complaints and charges against Wunderler and DiCorcia, both of whom have attacked Baffert relentlessly on the social media site. They include allegations that Baffert was guilty of blood doping his horses.
“Defendants made various statements accusing Baffert by name of engaging in 'blood doping' and committing other criminal acts of animal cruelty,” the suit reads. “These statements were published and widely disseminated on the social media platform 'X,' formerly known as Twitter, to an audience that reasonably understood that the statements were about Baffert and that the statements accused Baffert of 'blood doping.' Specifically, Mr. Wunderler accused Baffert of scratching the Thoroughbred racehorse 'Muth' because of a “reaction to EPO…”
According to the suit, before this year's running of the GI Belmont S., Wunderler “specifically asked his followers to bring dangerous objects to hurl at Baffert and his family. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Wunderler posted a picture of Baffert's house in California and claimed that he 'slaughters horses on National TV.'”
Allegedly, Wunderler and DiCorcia sent a text to Baffert's wife, Jill, through a third-party that “demanded large sums of money in exchange for ending his vexatious, noxious, and unlawful behavior.” The suit includes a screen shot of a tweet from Wunderler that reads: “1 million Dollars. I'll leave Baffert/Keri all of them alone.” It is not clear who “Keri” is.
“Mr. Wunderler and Mr. Dicorcia engaged in a conspiracy to extort money from Baffert, sent a text message demanding a certain sum of money, with specific payment instructions for wiring money, in exchange for a promise not to release information Defendants alleged is so damaging that it will end Baffert's career,” the suit charges.
Additionally, the suit notes that the two charged that Baffert blood-doped Medina Spirit (Protonico) and that Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy) was “juiced.”
According to the suit, the harsh criticism from the two came at a time where Baffert was working to restore his reputation after the controversy surrounding Medina Spirit testing positive for the medication betamethasone after he crossed the wire in front in the Derby.
“The media frenzy that ensued resulted in major industry stakeholders –specifically Churchill Downs, Inc., and the New York Racing Association, Inc.–taking action to ban Baffert from major racetracks in Kentucky and New York for various periods of time.
Baffert's position with Churchill Downs, specifically, is fluid and tenuous,” the suit reads. “Churchill Downs has repeatedly referenced negative media coverage associated with Baffert as grounds for extending his ban from the Churchill Downs Racetrack and the Kentucky Derby.”
Baffert is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 in addition to punitive damages. His lawyers have also asked the court to issue an order “requiring that the defendants to produce the video to the Court for the Court's and Plaintiffs' review.”