Florida Vet Garcia Wants Plea Change to Avoid Doping Trial

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Sarah Andrew

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Erica Garcia, a Florida-based veterinarian, broke off her longstanding business relationship with the now-imprisoned trainer Jorge Navarro in early 2019. But she remained in contact with other conspirators of the Thoroughbred doping scheme that Navarro-and numerous other racetrackers-would later admit to.

So when federal investigators began compiling evidence that led to a nationwide series of arrests in a widespread racehorse drugging crackdown in March 2020, Garcia was considered fair game for her alleged role in the pipeline of purportedly performance-enhancing drugs.

Charged with two felony counts involving conspiracies to commit drug alteration and misbranding and defrauding the United States government, in Garcia tried in 2021 to get a federal judge to suppress the evidence obtained from searches of her car and phone. It didn't work.

Now Garcia, 43, wants to join many of the 30 other defendants in the case who have either already changed their pleas or been found guilty by trial. On July 29 she requested a hearing before the judge to do explain why she wants to flip from “not guilty,” and that request was swiftly accommodated with an Aug. 1 court date.

Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil will preside over the hearing. She's the same judge who wrote the order that denied the suppression of evidence.

“Garcia argues that the physical search of her car, pursuant to a search warrant, was invalid because the application for the warrant contained 'stale' evidence,” Vyskocil wrote last year. “The Court rejects this argument because the affidavit for the warrant presented evidence that Garcia was long involved in an ongoing conspiracy.”

“The affidavit in support of the warrant for Garcia's car detailed her long-term relationship with Navarro and ongoing involvement with members of his doping scheme. It described at least six instances over the span of four months in which Garcia discussed with Navarro administering prohibited substances to racehorses,” Vyskocil wrote.

“The affidavit acknowledged that Garcia's relationship with Navarro deteriorated in early 2019,” Vyskocil wrote. “It explained that, nevertheless, Garcia remained in touch with other members of Navarro's network, including his assistant trainer.

“In the light of the evidence of Garcia's longstanding and continuing involvement in a doping operation, there was probable cause to search her vehicle, notwithstanding her personal break with Navarro,” Vyskocil wrote.

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