By T. D. Thornton
Barred trainer Jorge Navarro, the most notorious and prominent defendant in the international racehorse doping scandal that rocked the racing industry when the feds arrested 28 alleged conspirators in March 2020, has just been granted an Aug. 11 change-of-plea hearing at which he is expected to alter his initial “not guilty” plea from last year.
This bombshell change in the case could mean a new pleading of “guilty” is in the pipeline for Navarro, perhaps as part of a sentencing bargain that has played out behind the scenes between federal prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Within the past week, two other alleged co-conspirators—a veterinarian and a drug distributor—have either already changed their pleas to guilty or are expected to do so at an upcoming hearing.
The news about Navarro's change-of-plea hearing arrived in the form of a July 30 court order signed by Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil that landed on the electronic docket for United States District Court (Southern District of New York) around 5 p.m. Friday afternoon.
Five separate counts are included within the government's series of indictments that allegedly involve a vast network of co-conspirators who purportedly manufactured, mislabeled, rebranded, distributed, and administered performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses all across America and in international races. Navarro is named in two of the counts.
Count One is being referred to in court documents as the “Navarro Conspiracy,” which alleges
a years-long doping program organized and executed by Navarro on horses that he trained and controlled.
Count Three alleges a similar conspiracy organized by now-barred trainer Jason Servis, who is accused of doping nearly all of the racehorses under his control in a similar time frame during the 2010s decade, including the disqualified 2019 GI Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security.
That third count, the “Servis Conspiracy,” further implicates Navarro, Michael Kegley Jr., Kristian Rhein, and Alexander Chan.
Rhein and Chan are veterinarians who practiced at racetracks during the time of their alleged conspiracy. Kegley was an independent contractor for a company, MediVet Equine.
Kegley just changed his plea to guilty July 23. In doing so, he told the judge that he “sold a variety of products,” including the PED known as SGF-1000. “I sold these products to veterinarians, horse trainers,” Kegley said at last week's hearing. “When I did that I knew there was no medical prescription for those products. Also at the time, I knew that the product was not manufactured in an FDA approved facility, nor was it approved for sale by the FDA.”
On July 28—five days after Kegley's blunt admission in open court—Rhein asked for and was granted a change-of-plea hearing, which is coming up Aug. 3. The feds allegedly have him taped in a wiretapped conversation stating that he sold “assloads” of SGF-1000 to trainers, presumably then-clients at his Belmont Park base.
In other intercepted phone calls and texts between Navarro and Servis that are to be used as evidence, the two trainers allegedly coordinated the procurement and administration of SGF-1000 and purportedly warned each other about the presence of racetrack regulators and law enforcement officials at Gulfstream Park, where the two were stabled during winter meets.
According to the indictment, on Feb. 18, 2019, “Servis warned Navarro, via text message, of the presence of a racing official in the barn area where Servis and Navarro stored and administered PEDs to their respective racehorses.”
Later that same day, Navarro allegedly recounted the brush with the regulator to Michael Tannuzzo, another defendant: “He would have caught our asses [expletive] pumping and pumping and fuming every [expletive] horse [that ran] today,” Navarro allegedly said.
On March 5, 2019, another intercepted phone call between Servis and Navarro allegedly revealed their attempts to procure and administer SGF-1000.
“I've been using it on everything, almost,” Servis allegedly said in the wiretapped conversation..
Navarro allegedly replied that he's “got more than 12 horses on” that drug, but he ends the call by adding, “Jay, we'll sit down and talk about this shit. I don't want to talk about this shit on the phone, OK?”
Another alleged criminal incident involved Navarro dosing elite-level sprinter X Y Jet “with 50 injections [and] through the mouth” before a big win in the Mar. 30, 2019, GI Golden Shaheen in Dubai.
Ten months later, in January 2020, X Y Jet died suddenly, allegedly from cardiac distress that has never been fully documented or explained.
Two months after that, on Mar. 9, 2020, the feds swooped in and made multi-state arrests of the 28 alleged conspirators.
One defendant, the veterinarian Scott Robinson, has already pled guilty to conspiring to unlawfully distribute adulterated and misbranded drugs for the purpose of doping racehorses. In March 2021 he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and also had to forfeit $3.8 million he gained from illicit actions.
Sarah Izhaki, whose role in the alleged conspiracy involved selling misbranded versions of Epogen, pled guilty to the same charge as Robinson and in June 2021 was sentenced to time served plus three years of supervised release.
Vyskocil could have sentenced Izhaki to a prison term of 12 to 18 months, but opted for the more lenient punishment due to extenuating circumstances that included Izhaki's poor health.
At Izhaki's sentencing, Vyskocil warned other defendants that the light sentencing in Izhaki's case was a “one-off” that should not be construed as a benchmark for other defendants.
“I want to say on the record, if you are [thinking] that, you are making a mistake,” Vyskocil warned.