By T. D. Thornton
Seth Fishman and federal prosecutors are at odds over what types of evidence and expert testimony will be admissible in court when the veterinarian who allegedly made and sold purportedly performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) goes on trial in early 2022.
In the form of dueling motions filed by each party Dec. 1 in United States District Court (Southern District of New York), the two sides sparred over whether a jury should hear a wide range of evidence that involves what the government is alleging as Fishman “specifically target[ing] clients in the racehorse industry” by “peddling dozens of new drugs that purported to have performance-enhancing effects on racehorses [in a manner] squarely focused on ensuring that [he and his] customers would not get caught doing so.”
Some of what the prosecution wants admissible dates back at least a decade and involves Fishman being investigated in 2012 in Delaware when a Standardbred died after being injected with one of his prescribed products, plus separate PED-related admissions Fishman made in a different investigation that resulted in the prosecution of then-prominent Standardbred breeder David Brooks, who was convicted in 2013 in a $200 million fraud and obstruction of justice case.
The two sides also took umbrage at each other's choices of veterinary “experts” who have been submitted on witness lists to testify on the safety, efficacy, and clinical pharmacology of the drugs Fishman is alleged to have misbranded, adulterated, and conspired to distribute to other racetrack-based defendants in America and abroad.
Some of the motions made by both sides Wednesday that asked the court to exclude evidence relate to aspects of the case that have already been raised in previous court documents.
But one bizarre new offshoot that Fishman's legal team doesn't want brought up in front of a jury concerns a wiretapped phone conversation in which Fishman is allegedly asked by a camel-racing client in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) if he can also produce a “Viagra for ladies” that could be covertly added to a woman's drink.
The government is asserting that in February 2018, an individual identified only as “Bengawi” who purportedly worked for the UAE's Scientific Centers & Presidential Camel Department “solicited Seth Fishman to distribute PEDs, and to create and distribute [an aphrodisiac that] 'can be added in juice, for example.'”
Prosecutors wrote in a Nov. 17 court filing that, “In the course of these communications, the contact provided Seth Fishman with a video of what appeared to be an individual spiking a woman's unattended drink. In response, Seth Fishman offered to make 'BI-AGRA,' which he described as “Female Viagra so strong it makes the woman bisexual.”
The government's intent in wanting this exchange admissible appears to be rooted in establishing a pattern of what substances Fishman was able or willing to produce for clients.
The defense is objecting to the admissibility of those wiretapped sex-drug communications on the grounds that “the allegation that 'Bengawi' solicited the defendant to 'create and distribute illegal drugs' is a conclusion of law without any basis in fact…. It is unclear whether the defendant was responding in a humorous vein; or even taking the request seriously. There is no indication that the defendant subsequently shipped a substance intended for this use.'”
But even if the judge ends up disallowing that portion of evidence, the feds appear to be armed with a solid base of other wiretapped evidence to try and establish “Fishman's overall intent in his drug design–to avoid testability while increasing performance.”
One such intercepted conversation disclosed by the government in Wednesday's filing is a Mar. 31, 2019, call in which Fishman allegedly explains to a foreign potential client what his business strategy is at his Florida firm, Equestology:
“I design programs for people. So, if you're somebody who's got a bunch of endurance horses and you know what you are doing–and that's why I technically only work with trainers that have a certain amount of horses or more, because it would make sense to do it…I mostly work in regenerative peptides, and I work in things that are not commercially available.
“Every now and then people will ask me to make products because they want to go sell them to people who really don't know what's going on. Mostly camel guys that are in the desert. I don't have to tell you how it is, right?…But, I can meet with you [in Dubai]. You can explain to me your needs and wants and I can tell you how there's things that I made for other people that are not exclusive to them.
“If you want your own exclusive stuff, I'll tell you how we go about doing it. The reason I say that certain people want exclusivity is because, obviously, if these horses are being tested and they have something that somebody else has and that person is irresponsible, then it becomes a problem for them,” the government's motion stated.
When the judge does, in fact, rule on the admissibility questions, the crux of the decision might come down to which veterinarians will be allowed to testify and what they will be allowed to say in front of jurors.
The feds are objecting to Fishman's choice of Clara Fenger as a witness to opine on the nature of the pharmaceuticals he sold. She previously worked as a veterinarian with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for 15 years and is currently the sole proprietor of a Kentucky-based company called Equine Integrated Medicine.
Fenger's name might be familiar to racetrackers who have followed other drug-related cases. Her curriculum vita states she has provided “expert testimony” in no fewer than 19 international, federal, and state jurisdictions involving criminal, civil and administrative cases.
Recently, Fenger's work has included testifying on behalf of trainer Bob Baffert when his legal team overturned the 2020 lidocaine disqualifications of Charlatan and Gamine in Arkansas. Fenger also was hired by Baffert this past summer to escort the urine sample of GI Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit (Protonico) when it was sent to New York for additional betamethasone-related testing.
The prosecution's objection to Fenger is “because none of Dr. Fenger's opinions are admissible…insofar as they are unsupported and not based on facts, data, reliable
principles, or specialized knowledge, and because they concern issues that will serve only to sow confusion and distract the jury.”
In turn, Fishman's legal team is objecting to the three veterinarians the government wants to call as “experts”: Jean Bowman, veterinary medical officer in the Division of Surveillance for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Diana Link, a veterinary medical officer at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, and Cynthia Cole, the Director of the Racing Laboratory at the University of Florida who was responsible for the regimen of drug testing at the Florida Department of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
“First, the Court should preclude testimony suggesting that the purpose of the statutory scheme is to ensure the well-being of the racehorses,” Fishman's counsel wrote in a memorandum accompanying the Dec. 1 motions.
“Second, the Court should preclude evidence regarding the 'safety and efficacy' of those products allegedly manufactured and distributed by Dr. Fishman. The defendant is not charged in the instant Indictment with crimes relating to the manufacture or distribution of substances that are unsafe for use by animals…Opinion evidence regarding the 'safety and efficacy' of Dr. Fishman's products is, therefore, not relevant to the issues at trial.”
Fishman is charged with two felony counts. In a separate court order signed Dec. 2 by the judge in the case, it was noted that his case (along with co-defendant Lisa Giannelli) received the first back-up slot on the court calendar to begin a trial Jan. 19, 2022.