By Robert Gearty
Florida veterinarian Dr. Seth Fishman, the first person to face trial in a sweeping horse-doping case that documented the widespread use of illegal and undetectable performance-enhancing drugs at tracks across the country, was convicted in New York Feb. 2 on charges that could put him behind bars for 20 years.
A jury of eight women and four men in U.S. District Court in Manhattan found Fishman, 50, guilty of two counts of conspiring to violate adulteration and misbranding laws and the manufacture of PEDS administered to racehorses by corrupt trainers for money and fame.
U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil will sentence Fishman May 5.
Prosecutor Sarah Mortazavi told the judge prosecutors would be seeking to detain Fishman pending sentencing.
The verdict came swiftly. Jurors got the case late Feb. 1 and deliberated for about three hours Tuesday and Wednesday. The trial began with jury selection Jan. 19 and lasted 11 days.
The jury rejected Fishman's defense that his actions were in keeping with his oath as a licensed veterinarian to protect the health and welfare of animals.
“I understand the jury has reached a verdict,” Vyskocil said after the jury filed in the wood-paneled courtroom on the 26th floor of the courthouse.
The jury's foreperson then announced Fishman's guilt on each of the counts.
“I love animals. I love horses,” one of the jurors, Victoria Lopez, a 61-year-old woman from The Bronx, said in an interview following the verdict. “What they were doing wasn't right.”
“The jury's swift conviction of Seth Fishman reflects the overwhelming evidence of his guilt as displayed through this trial,” New York U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a release issued from his office. “As an ostensible veterinarian–sworn to the care and protection of animals–Fishman cynically violated his oath in service of corrupt trainers and in the pursuit of profits.”
Williams added, “Through the sale of untested, unsafe, and unstable drugs, Fishman's illegal drug business was a platform for both fraud and animal abuse. Today's conviction appropriately condemns the danger inherent in Fishman's crimes and underscores the seriousness with which this office takes the kind of abuse that Fishman practiced.”
Stuart S. Janney III, chairman of The Jockey Club, also reacted to the verdict.
“I am pleased to see all of the effort and time spent by federal agents, prosecutors, and others who have worked so hard on this case be rewarded with a guilty verdict, and I thank them for their commitment,” Janney said in a statement distributed by TJC. “It is highly encouraging to know that those who cheat and endanger our sport's athletes, both equine and human, face meaningful and life-changing punishments. Clearly, this verdict will serve as a deterrent to others, and it also provides hope for those who want to see true change in the racing industry. This step forward, one of many recently, reflects our steadfast determination towards maintaining the highest levels of integrity and safety for racing's athletes and customers.”
Fishman wasn't in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. Vyskocil hasn't said in open court where he is. A cryptic comment from Fishman's attorney to the judge led to speculation Fishman may be in a hospital.
Fishman had a co-defendant Lisa Giannelli, at the start of the trial. She worked with Fishman for 18 years, and prosecutors accused her of being Fishman's drug distributor. On Jan. 24, Vyskocil declared a mistrial in her case after her attorney tested positive for COVID-19.
Nearly two years ago, Williams' office charged Fishman, six other veterinarians, 11 trainers, and nine others, identified as PED distributors, with conspiring dope horses in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the United Arab Emirates.
The investigation began in 2018 and was headed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and criminal investigators with the Food and Drug Administration.
At the time of the indictment, then-New York U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the case was “the most far-reaching prosecution of racehorse doping in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
At a March 2020 press conference announcing the indictments, FBI New York assistant director in charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said the doping conspiracy risked the health of horses administered PEDs.
“What happened to these horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” Sweeney said.
Those charged included top trainer Jason Servis, who federal prosecutors say juiced multi-millionaire Maximum Security, the first-place finisher in the 2019 GI Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, who was demoted to 17th by stewards for interference with another horse in the race.
The accused also included Jorge Navarro, who was sentenced to five years in prison last year after pleading guilty to conspiracy. Prosecutors presented evidence at Fishman's trial showing that the trainer paid Fishman tens of thousands of dollars for PEDs, including a substance called BB3 that prosecutors say thickens a horse's blood to make it run faster and farther.
Navarro is one of nine charged individuals who have pled guilty. Two others who were arrested entered into non-prosecution agreements with prosecutors.
The Fishman trial revealed that another of those accused, former harness trainer Ross Cohen, struck a deal with prosecutors to become a cooperating witness.
Servis and several others have pled not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Prosecutors have said in court papers that they are in plea discussions with several defendants without naming them.
The Fishman verdict could have an impact on cases going forward.
The evidence against Fishman included witness testimony, emails and texts, and wiretap recordings that captured Fishman talking about doping horses, and bragging that his drugs wouldn't appear in post-race testing.
Prosecutors also showed the jury thousands of vials of drugs seized from Fishman's Florida company Equestology.
Two of those witnesses were harness trainer Adrienne Hall and Thoroughbred trainer Jamen Davidovich. They testified they administered PEDs to their horses obtained from Fishman. Hall testified under deferred prosecution agreement with the government. Davidovich's testimony came after he was granted immunity.
As part of their case, prosecutors also played for the jury video of Navarro's X Y Jet winning the $2.5 million G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Gulf News in Dubai in 2019. X Y Jet died of a heart attack a year later, Navarro said in a statement shortly after the incident.
“Thank you boss, [you're] a big part of it,” Navarro said in a text exchange with Fishman just after the 2019 Golden Shaheen.
The Thoroughbred industry's leading publications are working together to cover this key trial.
Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.