By T. D. Thornton
Federal prosecutors recommended Friday that the barred trainer Jorge Navarro be sentenced to the five-year maximum prison sentence for his admitted role in a years-long horse doping conspiracy, and they want the judge to make him pay $25.8 million in restitution to victims who were cheated out of purse money.
“Navarro's aggressive pursuit of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)–and his eagerness to use racehorses under his care to test the potency of novel PEDs–displayed a particularly callous disregard for the well-being of the horses under his care and control,” government attorneys wrote in a Dec. 10 sentencing submission filed in United States District Court (Southern District of New York).
“[T]he defendant considered his prolific doping a badge of honor,” prosecutors alleged. Navarro, 46, is to be sentenced Dec. 17. Although the recommendation for the maximum prison sentence for one of the highest-profile defendants in the alleged international doping scandal is not a shock, the fact that entities “from whom purse winnings were obtained through the immediate effect of Navarro's fraud” were described as victims is a significant turn of events.
But there could be three looming roadblocks to the collection of that $25.8 million in restitution that aren't made any clearer by Friday's submission. The first is that prosecutors filed the schedule of victims under seal, so exact names of who is eligible to collect weren't made public.
The second is which entities (owners, trainers, jockeys, etc…) have been determined to be eligible for payback, and in exactly which races? Theoretically, the list spans nearly a decade of Navarro's racing across multiple jurisdictions. The third is that the judge doesn't have to approve the recommendation. But all of those points could end up being trumped by practicality: Even if the judge holds him to it, whether or not Navarro will ever be able to pay such a daunting amount of restitution is the obvious question. It is common in multi-million dollar fraud convictions for victims never to see even a penny of restitution decisions that get hammered out in a plea agreement, like Navarro's did. And if Navarro ends up getting deported back to his native Panama as the result of his pleading guilty to one felony drug conspiracy count, the prospect of him ever paying up could vanish entirely the moment he's banished from America.
(Separately, Navarro's deal also includes a fine of $70,000 payable to the government that is due at the time of his sentencing. It is not counted as part of the restitution.)
“Throughout Navarro's years-long conspiracy, Navarro was the critical component in a network of fraud–the individual who amplified the corruption of horse owners and encouraged the corruption of his underlings,” the Dec. 10 filing stated.
“Navarro earned tens of millions of dollars in purse winnings by training and racing Thoroughbred horses that Navarro had 'doped' using a plethora of adulterated and misbranded PEDs, including (among others) blood builders, vasodilators, SGF-1000, baking soda 'drenches,' 'bleeder' pills, and other drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration…
“There was no question that, throughout the charged conspiracy, Navarro understood what he was doing was wrong. Navarro often warned, and was warned by, trainers to ensure that no one would be caught 'doping' their horses,” the filing stated. Back in August, Navarro admitted to administering illicit substances to horses under his care, including to many of the stakes stars of his stable during the 2010s decade. He specifically cited War Story, Shancelot, Sharp Azteca and X Y Jet as examples. That latter horse–an elite-level international stakes sprinter–died suddenly in January 2020, within months of having been repeatedly drugged by Navarro.
On Dec. 3, in a presentencing report in his own defense, Navarro had asked the federal judge for a variance to bring the most time he would spend behind bars down to about 3 1/2 years. Navarro–plus friends and family members who wrote numerous character-reference letters to the judge begging for leniency of his behalf–also professed to have “loved” the very horses he injected and force-fed with purported PEDs. The feds took umbrage at both of those assertions in Friday's filing.
“Notwithstanding his hypocritical and self-serving claim to have 'loved' the horse, Navarro's course of conduct with X Y Jet merely exemplifies his aggressive pursuit of new drugs with which to dope his horses,” the court document stated.
“Navarro's frantic efforts to dope X Y Jet in advance of a Feb. 13, 2019, precursor race to the $2.5 million Golden Shaheen race were emblematic of his approach to racing, and indicative of the nature of Navarro's discussions when speaking with complicit third parties, in contrast to how Navarro apparently comported himself around others.”
The filing continued: “In his sentencing submission, Navarro blatantly breaches the plain terms of the parties' plea agreement. Despite agreeing to the [five-year max] calculation…and despite further agreeing that 'neither party will seek any departure or adjustment'…Navarro asks the Court to depart and adjust the stipulated Guidelines sentence on the basis of out-of-circuit precedent never adopted in this Circuit, and contrary to the Guidelines calculations in the plea agreement and pre-sentencing report.”
Prosecutors cited three specific reasons why the five-year imprisonment as per federal sentencing guidelines is appropriate in Navarro's case.
“First, the nature and scope of Navarro's offense conduct merits a Guidelines sentence. Navarro participated in the conspiracy for years, and in the course of the conspiracy, pursued many different PEDs from multiple different suppliers–both veterinarians and laypeople–in efforts to gain a competitive advantage. Navarro's criminality was motivated by his cynical efforts to boost his own profile and profits.
“Second, a Guidelines sentence is necessary to provide just punishment and reflect the nature and seriousness of the offense given Navarro's casual attitude regarding his years-long 'doping' conspiracy.
“It is not the case that Navarro's crime was the result of a single lapse in judgment, confined in time and scope,” the filing continued. “To the contrary, Navarro engaged in repeated and persistent efforts to cheat over the course of years, cycling through various sources of supply, and pursuing aggressively new means to illegally dope horses. Yet Navarro never acknowledged the seriousness of his crimes. Navarro's flippancy towards his dangerous and illegal conduct is exemplified by calls, text messages, and other evidence…”
The government's third point has to do with deterring other trainers from committing the same crimes.
“Racehorse trainers, who are entrusted with the care and custody of racehorses, have unfettered access to these animals, and by extension are entrusted to ensure those horses' care and health,” the filing stated. “Like veterinarians, trainers are afforded a certain latitude under the assumption that they are acting in good faith as competitors and as custodians of racehorses. Navarro exploited that good faith.
“He, like many actors in the racehorse industry, had grown indifferent to, and dismissive of, the notion of obtaining illegal drugs to dope racehorses for profit. Racehorse trainers, in particular, assume that even if caught doping, they will have the means and wherewithal to obfuscate, litigate, and intimidate others into overlooking or justifying a violation, and thus continue their doping practices unencumbered.”
The filing continued: “A Guidelines sentence of 60 months' imprisonment will send a strong signal to racehorse trainers and others in the industry that there will be serious consequences if they abuse their position of trust by engaging in the callous and dangerous practice of doping racehorses for profit.
“A significant sentence will counter the pervasive view in the racehorse industry that selling and administering adulterated and misbranded drugs is inconsequential and that the consequences of criminal activity will never amount to significant criminal penalties.”
In conclusion, prosecutors wrote that, “Jorge Navarro's case reflects failings, greed, and corruption at virtually every level of the world of professional horse racing.
“For money and fame, corrupt trainers went to increasing extremes to dope horses under their care. Unscrupulous owners, who stood to profit directly, encouraged and pressured trainers to win at any cost. Veterinarians sworn to the care and protection of their patients routinely violated their oaths in service of corrupt trainers and to line their own pockets.
Assistants and grooms all witnessed animal abuse in the service of greed, but did little to stop such conduct, and engaged in myriad ways to support notoriously corrupt trainers.
“Structures designed for the protection of the horses abused in this case failed repeatedly; fixtures of the industry–owners, veterinarians, and trainers–flouted rules and disregarded their animals' health while hypocritically incanting a love for the horses under their control and ostensible protection.
“Standing as the keystone for this structure of abuse, corruption, and duplicity was Jorge Navarro, a trainer who treated his animals as expendable commodities in the service of
his 'sport,'” the filing summed up.