By T. D. Thornton
Even up until the final tense moments before a federal judge handed down Scott Mangini's sentence Friday for his role as a licensed pharmacist who created custom drugs for racehorses in an alleged international doping conspiracy, the defense and prosecution sparred over two main issues: 1) How many of those drugs were actually “performance-enhancing,” and 2) What should Mangini's sentencing be relative to that of Scott Robinson, who got 18 months in prison for marketing and selling those same pharmaceuticals?
Saying that he wanted to “send a message” that would be as much of a deterrent to others as a specific punishment for Mangini's pleading guilty to one felony count of conspiring to distribute adulterated and misbranded drugs, United States District Judge J. Paul Oetken sentenced the 56-year-old to the same term as Robinson-18 months in prison.
“At the end of the day, I find that resolving how much of it was performance-enhancing, or had one of the potential uses of enhancing the performances of animals, including horses, is not essential to my sentencing decision,” Oetken said Sept. 10 in U.S. District Court (Southern District of New York).
“The drugs were not tested or approved by the [Food and Drug Administration]. They were not properly labelled and distributed pursuant to prescriptions. And, in fact, [the business was] organized to avoid detection by the FDA and other regulators, including the use of false prescriptions and false return addresses,” Oetken said.
The maximum sentence that Mangini faced under federal guidelines was five years imprisonment, which is what prosecutors had recommended. Defense attorneys had lobbied for a period of home confinement.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors also demanded a forfeiture order from Mangini in the amount of $8,108,141.
In pre-sentencing court documents, Mangini's attorneys had argued that amount was “far more than he has earned in his lifetime,” and that “the forfeiture is plainly disproportionate for Mr. Mangini as it guarantees he will remain forever impoverished.”
Just prior to the 18-month sentence being handed down, Mangini was granted the opportunity to address the court. He began speaking slowly, in a level, pensive voice. But by the time he finished what he wanted to say, his diction had cracked under the strain of emotion.
“When I got into the business, I had the idea that I could help all kinds of horses and make it affordable for owners and trainers,” Mangini said. “I started selling cheaper versions of animal drugs and supplements. I really didn't know it was illegal. I had an obligation to follow the rules and I failed to do so. Now when I look back, I destroyed my life. And I have no one to blame but myself…
“I have lost my career as a pharmacist. And I can't work with horses again,” Mangini continued. “What is especially hard is how I [inaudible] my wife and my stepson. They are totally dependent upon me financially. I tried to protect them. Because of this crime, they will suffer. And it is my fault. This has haunted me since my arrest…
“Even though I may be absent from their daily lives, they know that I am financially ruined. My wife cries [inaudible] and I don't know what to say to her. I know I am to blame for doing this to them…
“My parents, in their 70s, they moved to [where Mangini lives in] Florida so that I could help them as they grow old, so I could be there for them. I have let them down as well,” Mangini said. “Since my arrest, I have tried to do better. I admitted that I violated the FDA rules. I met with the government every time that they wanted. I told them the truth. I admitted that I broke the law. Now I am filled with regret and remorse, and I'm sorry.”
On March 9, 2020, Mangini was arrested as part of the nationwide sweep that netted 27 others alleged to be involved all through the supply chain of an international doping ring. He was charged with two counts of participating in conspiracies related to his distribution in interstate commerce of adulterated and misbranded drugs with the intent to defraud and mislead.
The charges were based on Mangini supplying custom-made drugs to resellers (such as Robinson) and, later, to customers directly through several businesses and websites dedicated to the marketing and sale of performance-enhancing drugs to those in the horse racing industry.
The prosecution had alleged that Mangini often obscured his involvement by “hiding behind other people” and that he “sold a wide variety of drugs, including blood builders, used to increase red blood cell counts and/or oxygenation to stimulate a horse's race performance and recovery; analgesics, designed to block pain, which can mask physical injuries; and red acid, similarly used to reduce inflammation in joints and reduce pain.”
On April 23, 2021, weeks before he was to stand trial, Mangini pled guilty after negotiating a plea agreement that charged him with just a single, encompassing count of participating in a drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy.
“In some cases the drugs were manufactured in facilities that were not as sanitary as they should have been, under circumstances where they created increased risk of harm to the animals that they were intended for,” Oetken said prior to the sentencing. “The defendant was a licensed pharmacist, and in that role he knew what he was doing, and he knew that he was acting to evade the law and regulatory authorities.”
Oetken also noted that before his arrest, authorities had already once restricted Mangini's pharmacist's license and had suspended the business license of the pharmaceuticals firm he was involved with.
“So he was aware several years ago that authorities were taking a closer look at the business, and for at least some period of time he went back to operating it,” Oetken said.
The judge then noted that Mangini has no prior criminal history, and that he had provided numerous character-reference letters that Oetken took into consideration.
But then Oetken said, “Balancing those positive considerations with the nature of the crime, this is a sufficiently serious crime that punishment is warranted. Among the purposes of sentencing that must be considered-and I think [what] is relevant here is promoting respect for the law and also deterrence, particularly general deterrence-those are important considerations given that the business scheme here was designed to evade the law.
“I also treated similarly situated defendants with comparable punishment as a necessary consideration,” Oetken continued. “Mr. Robinson was sentenced to 18 months. I found that significantly below [mandatory sentencing guidelines] was appropriate. I think the fact of imprisonment is more important than a lengthy imprisonment. I don't think it's likely that the defendant needs to be [incarcerated] because he's a danger or something like that. But I do think that sending a message that this form of crime will be taken seriously is important.”
Six of 28 defendants named in the original indictment have now pled guilty to charges in the federal government's prosecution of an alleged “corrupt scheme” to manufacture, mislabel, rebrand, distribute, and administer PEDs to racehorses all across America and in international races.
Robinson was the first to be sentenced in March 2021. In addition to his 18 months in prison, he had to forfeit $3.8 million in profits.
In June, Sarah Izhaki was sentenced to time already served plus three years of supervised release for selling misbranded versions of Epogen.
Michael Kegley, Jr., an independent contractor for the Kentucky-based company MediVet Equine, pled guilty July 23 to one count of drug adulteration and misbranding. He is to be sentenced Nov. 22.
Kristian Rhein, a suspended veterinarian formerly based at Belmont Park, on Aug. 3 pled guilty to one count of drug adulteration and misbranding for use in the covert doping of Thoroughbreds. As part of a plea bargain, Rhein has agreed forfeit $1.02 million in profits directly traceable to his offense, plus pay $729,716 in restitution. He is to be sentenced Dec. 2.
The barred trainer Jorge Navarro cut a deal with federal prosecutors Aug. 11 in which he pled guilty to one count of conspiring with others to administer non-FDA-approved, misbranded and adulterated drugs, including PEDs that Navarro believed would be untestable and undetectable. In exchange, a similar second count against him was dropped.
Navarro faces a maximum prison term of five years when he gets sentenced Dec. 17. Navarro's plea deal also stipulates that he pay $25.8 million to a list of victims that has not yet been made public.
A number of others still have their cases winding through the federal court system. Among them are the barred trainer Jason Servis, whom the feds allegedly recorded in wiretapped phone conversations discussing the doping of Maximum Security, the former $16,000 maiden-claimer who crossed the wire first in the 2019 GI Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for interference.
Oetken told Mangini to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons (specific location to be determined) Oct. 25.
His attorney, however, requested that the judge set a January surrender date, “so Mr. Mangini can have the holidays” with his family.
Oetken concurred, and reset Mangini's prison reporting date to Jan. 10, 2022.