By T. D. Thornton
Six days before he is to be sentenced as the final–and most notoriously prominent–defendant in the 2020 racehorse doping conspiracy scandal, the barred trainer Jason Servis was described by federal prosecutors in court documents as a person who “lied, repeatedly, and persisted in his illegal conduct even when confronted with irrefutable proof that his conduct was dishonest and violated racing rules.”
Culled from a trove of wiretapped surveillance (that would have been used against him at trial had he not pleaded guilty last December as part of a plea bargain) was a newly released transcript used by prosecutors as part of their July 20 sentencing submission to underscore that Servis even “lied to Maximum Security's owner prior to the Saudi Cup” by falsely claiming the colt had never been administered any purportedly performance-enhancing substances.
Just nine days after winning that $20 million Saudi Cup in 2020, Servis was one of 31 horsemen, veterinarians, and pharmaceutical suppliers arrested and charged in a series of coordinated law enforcement sweeps. Most of them have long since pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial and are now serving their sentences.
Prosecutors had alleged (and other convicted conspirators had admitted their roles in) Servis's administration of the substance SGF-1000 to Maximum Security during the first half of 2019, when the colt improbably rose from being a $16,000 maiden-claimer to a multiple Grade I winner and the 3-year-old champion colt.
The feds cited a series of emails from December 2019 that juxtaposed how Maximum Security's owner/breeder partnership of Gary and Mary West wanted to exercise the utmost of veterinary caution two months prior to running in the Saudi Cup, while Servis had apparently not disclosed to them that he and Maximum Security had already been the targets of investigations initiated by gaming commission regulators and the state police in New York.
The exact name of the person who sent a Dec. 17, 2019, email to Servis is redacted in the exhibit documentation, but the July 20 sentencing submission identifies the sender as Maximum Security's “owner” without specifying which of the Wests it was.
The email chain started with the owner cautioning Servis that “over there” [in Saudi Arabia] “they might consider a sugar cube illegal.” The owner then stated that “if you need any help figuring out their rules I will gladly pay for you to get whatever advice you need.”
Servis then replied, “Sounds good…just an FYI Max has never been on anything out of the ordinary.”
The owner then wrote back, “Jason, consult whoever you need to consult to be 100% certain we don't have any kind of accidental drug violation. If you have to feed Max just hay and organic carrots for a month before the race, do that too!!! I would feel horrible to win a life changing race like this for everyone only to find out we didn't do something right because we didn't know. I will gladly pay for any reasonable consulting work we need to have done to be sure we are 'squeaky clean' for the race.”
Maximum Security won the Saudi Cup. But after Servis's drug conspiracy arrest, the $10-million winning share was withheld.
The Wests initially disputed the purse hold-up, but after Servis pleaded guilty in December 2022, they released a joint statement that said, “Now that Jason Servis has entered a guilty plea, we want to make it clear that if the Saudi Cup decides to redistribute the purse, we would support that decision. Hopefully, that action will prevent future conduct of this nature. We believe the decision to take the Saudi Cup purse from Maximum Security and redistribute it is the correct one.” (As of Thursday, Maximum Security's race record on Equibase still lists him as the 2020 Saudi Cup winner.)
The prosecution's pre-sentence report stated that Maximum Security “was among the many horses in Servis's barn to receive SGF-1000: an unapproved, untested, misbranded and adulterated drug that Servis and his co-conspirators covertly used on racehorses believing it would improve their performance.”
In his own pre-sentencing submission filed with the court July 13, Servis attempted to explain away his use of SGF-1000 and other drugs by claiming he was misled by his veterinarians, a point that the government rebutted in its own court submission.
“He was under no illusions that his conduct was permissible. He was neither deceived nor manipulated,” the feds wrote.
The prosecution continued, at a different point in the submission: “The quality of Servis's acceptance of responsibility is a factor that this Court should consider in weighing the appropriate sentence. While Servis states that he accepts responsibility for his crimes and claims to display remorse, significant aspects of his submission appear aimed at contesting facts related to his guilt, casting doubt on the extent and sincerity of his contrition….
“Licensed trainers are accountable under state racing rules for the illicit doping of racehorses specifically to ensure that trainers are vigilant and liable for illicit conduct,” the feds sated. “That rule also ensures that trainers are responsible for the well-being of the horses they are meant to protect. Servis abdicated that responsibility again and again.
“Servis sought to hide his actions. And Servis enabled others who sought to hide those crimes as well. Servis ignored clear evidence of the criminality of what he was doing and continued his illicit use of adulterated and misbranded drugs up until his arrest.
“Between 2016 and March 2020, Servis abused approved and unapproved bronchodilators, namely, Clenbuterol and an unapproved, compounded version of Clenbuterol sourced from fellow [now-imprisoned] trainer Jorge Navarro.
“The abuse of those drugs for purposes of enhancing his horses' race performance was illicit and risked the health of the horses under his care. Servis' actions and words–when he did not think he was being watched and overheard–demonstrate his knowledge that his conduct was wrong.”
Prior to his plea deal, Servis had been scheduled to go to trial on two felony counts: Conspiracy to misbrand and adulterate performance-enhancing drugs, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He would have faced 25 years in prison on those two counts if convicted.
As part of a negotiated plea deal with the government eight months ago, he instead pleaded guilty to a felony charge of misbranding and adulterating a chemical substance (described by prosecutors as similar to the bronchodilator clenbuterol, but stronger), and to a misdemeanor of misbranding and adulterating (for the SGF-1000).
Servis, 66, now faces four years in prison when he is sentenced next Wednesday by Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of United States District Court (Southern District of New York).
Servis's sentencing submission asked for a sentence “significantly below” those federal guidelines.
Prosecutors, by contrast, requested a sentence “greater than” the three years imposed on convicted veterinarian and SGF-1000 supplier Kristian Rhein, “though below the Guidelines Sentence of 48 months' imprisonment.”