By Bill Finley
Trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis entered not guilty pleas to the charges of drug alteration and misbranding during an arraignment Thursday before United States District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil. Due to the coronavirus, the arraignment was held via teleconference.
Servis and Navarro were among 17 individuals arraigned Thursday for their alleged roles in a horse doping scandal. All 17 pleaded not guilty. The not guilty pleas were not a surprise as it is rare for defendants in a criminal case to plead guilty at the arraignment phase.
Navarro has been charged with two counts of misbranding and Servis has been charged with one count of the same offense. Misbranding carries a maximum prison sentence of five years for each count. Servis and Navarro were among 27 people arrested Mar. 9 after an investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing.
Navarro took part in the teleconference. Servis did not, but was represented by counsel.
While the arraignment focused on those who have already been indicted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Adams said more names could surface as the FBI and Department of Justice are continuing their investigation. When asked by Judge Vyskocil whether or not he expected there would be additional charges or new defendants, Adams replied: “We are certainly considering that.”
“The investigation, I will note, continues,” Adams said. “As what I will describe as part of discovery, there are still documents and records coming into the government from various parties, people who have received search warrants or subpoenas. Of course, there are quite a few electronic devices in FBI control to which warrants have been obtained and now the execution of warrants is underway.”
The next step in the legal process will be the discovery stage, where the government must produce any evidence it has against the defendants to their attorneys. Because the case involves so many defendants and so much evidence that was collected through wiretaps of the defendants' phones, both sides agreed that it would be six or seven months until the discovery hearing could be held.
“We're looking at reviewing tens of thousands of conversations,” said Robert Baum, the attorney for Alexander Chan..
Vyskocil set aside the date of June 30 for a conference to be held among the involved parties. The judge believed such an interim conference is necessary because of the massive amount of evidence that the case involves. She did not set a trial date and said she will not do so until the fall.
The difficulty of holding an arraignment, one that included some 20 attorneys, over the phone became apparent during one light moment during the proceedings. The hearing was put on hold momentarily as one unidentified person blurted out “I took a shower. I have been showering every day.” The strange statement was followed by laughter.