By T. D. Thornton
The barred trainer Jorge Navarro, who faces a five-year maximum prison term after pleading guilty in August to one count in a years-long Thoroughbred drugging conspiracy in exchange for having a similar second count against him dismissed, on Friday asked the federal judge who will sentence him Dec. 17 for a variance that could bring the most time he would spend behind bars down to about 3 1/2 years.
Navarro, through a sentencing submission report filed by his legal team Dec. 3 in United States District Court (Southern District of New York), is claiming that he executed a plea agreement July 29 with prosecutors that should reduce his adjusted offense level under federal sentencing guidelines by three levels based on his “complete and timely acceptance of responsibility.”
However, because of the way Navarro's pre-sentence investigation report (PSR) and the authorized statutory maximum guidelines have been calculated, Navarro “does not benefit from this adjustment.”
Navarro's lawyers put it this way: He pled guilty to one felony count of conspiring with others to administer non-Food and Drug Administration (FDA))-approved misbranded and adulterated drugs, including performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) that Navarro believed would be untestable and undetectable by racing authorities.
The PSR pegged his total offense level to 35, with a criminal history of category I, which yields a guideline imprisonment range of 168 to 210 months.
However, the authorized statutory maximum sentence in his case is only 60 months, which is “less than the minimum of the applicable guideline range.” This means that regardless of what the felony offense level directs, it is trumped by the five-year maximum stated in the applicable law, the court filing states.
But here's where Navarro's defense team thinks the adjustment needs to be tweaked further: “Although the PSR correctly calculates the advisory guideline range as 60 months, it fails to provide a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility,” the request for a variance states.
“In actuality, Jorge Navarro was assured a sentence of no more than five years regardless of whether he affirmatively accepted responsibility in this case…. Navarro satisfied the criteria…and he timely notified the government of his intention to enter a plea, thereby permitting the government to avoid preparing for trial and allowing the Court and the government to allocate their resources more efficiently.
“Because this guideline range exceeds the statutory maximum,…this Court is asked to adopt the rationale [in a precedent] and apply the three-level adjustment for acceptance of responsibility beginning at level 25, (57 to 71 months),” the filing continues. “This application would afford Mr. Navarro the full three-level reduction as agreed to in the written plea agreement, producing a total offense level of 22, and yielding an advisory guideline range of 41 to 51 months…
“Furthermore, while on pretrial release for over 21 months, Jorge Navarro has abided by all the terms and conditions of his bond without issue,” the filing states. “Additionally, the stipulated forfeiture of $70,000 will be satisfied prior to sentencing.”
Additionally, Navarro on Aug. 11 agreed to pay $25,860,514 in restitution to a list of victims whose identities won't be divulged until the government's final prosecutorial paperwork is due next week. It is unclear if he will have the resources to ever start paying down that amount.
Navarro had admitted in court when he pled guilty that restitution is correctly based on ill-gotten gains from the purse winnings of his trainees. That massive dollar amount equates to nearly 75% of all the purse winnings Navarro's horses amassed during his 15-year training career.
Navarro, 46, already admitted in open court that between 2016 and his arrest on Mar. 9, 2020, “I administered, and, at times, directed [others] working under my direction to administer non-Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, misbranded, adulterated drugs to increase performance of racehorses under my custody and care…
“[Drugs] were administered to horses without a valid prescription,” Navarro said when he entered his plea four months ago. “The drugs [were] blood-building substances, vasodilators, and imported, misbranded bronchodilators, 'bleeder' pills, and SGF-1000,” which is purported to be a customized PED intended to promote tissue repair and increase a horse's endurance.
Navarro also was the second guilty-pleading conspirator to specifically implicate fellow defendant and ruled-off trainer Jason Servis, for whom Navarro said he procured an “imported, misbranded bronchodilator” intended be used as a PED to help horses run faster.
Also back in August, Navarro admitted to administering illicit substances to the stakes stars of his stable during the 2010s decade, specifically citing X Y Jet, War Story, Shancelot and Sharp Azteca as examples.
MGSW Sharp Azteca ran huge Beyer Speed Figures of 112 and 115 in 2017. In 2019, Shancelot unleashed a 121 Beyer in a 12 1/2-length romp in a Saratoga Race Course Grade II stakes–a speed figure that represented the highest Beyer by any 3-year-old sprinter in the three-decade published history of those numbers.
Among the wiretapped interceptions the feds said they could have used as evidence against Navarro had his case gone to trial, one conversation allegedly involved Navarro admitting to dosing elite-level sprinter X Y Jet “with 50 injections [and] through the mouth” before a win in the Mar. 30, 2019, G1 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.
In Friday's sentencing submission by the defense team, Joel Lugo, a surgeon at Ocala Equine Hospital, was among the list of friends and family members who vouched for Navarro's character by providing a letter of reference on the admitted doper's behalf.
“I consulted in many cases as well as treated many of his horses including the famous horses X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca,” Lugo wrote. “When we discussed the health of his horses, he always considered the health and well-being of his horses. Decisions and treatments were made as animal lovers and not for any financial considerations or personal ambitions.
Lugo wrote that he had been in “constant communication” with Navarro about X Y Jet, although he did not shed any light about the exact circumstances of the sprinter's sudden death.
“I remember the day when XY Jet passed away. Jorge called me crying to tell me directly the news,” Lugo wrote. “I know Navarro was devastated because he truly loved X Y Jet.”
Jockey Jose Ferrer also wrote to the judge on the ruled-off trainer's behalf, stating that he “admired his hard work ethic and love for both the sport and animals.”
Rene Douglas, a former jockey who formed an ownership partnership for the MGISW Private Zone, said he chose Navarro to train the horse based on the conditioner's “knowledge and care as a horseman and character as a person.”
Yet even the sentencing submission by Navarro's own legal team acknowledges that Navarro's horsemanship wasn't ideal.
“Jorge recognizes that his conduct in this case calls into question his care for his horses,” the court filing states.
The strain of maintaining a far-above-average winning percentage that hovered around 28% in tandem with his reputation as a conditioner who could get horses to improve dramatically was also indirectly cited in the court filing as a circumstance related to Navarro's pending imprisonment.
“Unfortunately, the pressure associated with professional horse racing and managing a 140-racehorse stable coupled with his insatiable desire to win tainted his judgment and led to his downfall, for which he takes full and complete responsibility,” the filing states. “Rather than stepping back and reevaluating, Jorge made life-altering choices that will haunt him forever.”
Navarro's lawyers noted in the filing that he is facing “an almost certain deportation” back to Panama, where he was born but currently has no family ties.
“In addition to a potential lengthy prison sentence, Jorge Navarro faces permanent separation from his family and an end to life as he has known it in the United States, despite the fact that he has been lawfully residing here for the last 35 years,” the filing states.
“Jorge's immigration status will also not allow him to benefit from an early release to a community corrections facility. He may even serve a longer incarceration term than ordered by the Court as a result of the collateral consequences of separate Department of Homeland Security deportation proceedings….
“Moreover, the conditions of confinement at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation facility are known to be extremely poor in comparison to those at a Bureau of Prison's minimum security camp facility which Jorge would otherwise be designated to,” the filing states.