By Robert Gearty
Jury selection kicked off April 27 in the trial of a Delaware woman who prosecutors say helped veterinarian Dr. Seth Fishman supply illegal performance-enhancing drugs to trainers who used them to secretly dope horses to win races.
By day's end, a jury of eight men and four women was sworn in to hear the case against Lisa Giannelli in U.S. District Court in New York.
Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil scheduled opening statements for Apr. 28. The government has two FBI agents lined up to testify as their first witnesses.
Giannelli was in court for the jury selection.
One of the jurors chosen is a 60-year-old woman who said during voir dire that she has attended the GI Kentucky Derby “numerous times.”
Giannelli, of Felton, worked for Fishman and his Florida company Equestology as a sales representative. They were arrested two years ago following a lengthy FBI investigation into suspected backstretch horse doping that nabbed more than two dozen others.
Those charged included prominent Thoroughbred trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis. Navarro pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to five years in prison. Servis is awaiting a trial that has been pushed back to early 2023.
Giannelli's case is being heard in the same courthouse where Fishman was convicted Feb. 2 on two counts of conspiracy to violate adulteration or misbranding laws after an 11-day trial. She is charged with one of those crimes.
Fishman and Giannelli have been the only ones in the case to take their chances at trial. There have been nine other guilty pleas since the arrests, including Navarro's.
Giannelli was to be tried with Fishman, but after opening statements and testimony from the government's first witness, a mistrial was declared in her case after her lawyer Louis Fasulo tested positive for COVID-19, preventing him from proceeding.
She faces five years in prison if convicted. She is free on $100,000 bond.
At a conference Apr. 25, Fasulo said his client would be testifying in her own defense. He also said she would be his only witness. Fishman didn't testify, and his lawyers called no other witnesses.
Fasulo told Vyskocil that he was “100% certain” Gianelli would take the stand.
“I never make that commitment, but we know it's going to happen,” he said.
In court papers last month, prosecutors spelled out their case against Giannelli.
They said she had traveled to racehorse training facilities in the northeast U.S., offering to sell Fishman's drugs “on demand, without regard to the existence of any prescription, the medical need for such drugs or the legality (or propriety) of selling such drugs directly to racehorse trainers.”
In court papers, Fasulo has signaled his intent to put on a “good faith” defense.
“A person acts in good faith when he or she has an honestly held belief, opinion, or understanding that as part of her experience in the horse racing industry veterinarians were allowed to sell drugs they compounded or manufactured and it was the trainer's responsibility to follow withdrawal times, even though the belief, opinion or understanding turns out to be inaccurate or incorrect,” Fasulo wrote in a proposed instruction that he wants the jury to hear before it begins deliberations.
At the previous trial, Fasulo sought to distance his client from Fishman, a tactic he is expected to take this time around.
“We sit here today after hearing the government's opening statement that Lisa Giannelli is a lone wolf in a herd of sheep,” he said as he began his opening remarks to the prior jury. “This case will prove that Lisa was a sheep herded by the sheep master.”
Fasulo said then that Giannelli had been a groom and a trainer before she went to work for Fishman. He said they had worked together for 18 years.
Fasulo said his client had no ability to create the products that Fishman manufactured and had no ability to label them.
“She took no responsibility as to the products as they were presented to her, other than they were presented by a veterinarian who was licensed in the states in which she was dealing,” he said.
At the end of his remarks, he said they don't hide from the fact that Giannelli worked for Fishman.
“What the government found in her home were products given to her by Seth Fishman, the veterinarian, and you will hear that she believed those products to be okay to transport to others,” he said.
The trial is expected to last two weeks.
The Thoroughbred industry's leading publications are working together to cover this key trial.