By Bill Finley
Trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, the two biggest names among the 27 people indicted Monday after an investigation into horse doping, are due back in court Mar. 23 for their arraignment. Both were arrested Monday in Miami and released on bail.
As part of the bail agreement, the court imposed the requirement that Servis and Navarro not have any contact with racehorses without the presence of the third party owner of the premises where the horse is stabled.
The indicted horsemen will be allowed to enter a guilty or not guilty plea at the arraignment.
All 27 individuals were arrested in raids Monday across the country that included Florida, New York, Indiana, California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
Navarro was charged with two counts of “Misbranding Conspiracy,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years each; Servis was charged with one count. Harness trainer Nick Surick, also among those indicted, faces counts of “Misbranding Conspiracy” and “Obstruction.” The maximum penalty for obstruction is 20 years.
Surick was a central figure throughout the indictment and in one intercepted phone conversation spoke about killing some of Navarro's horses to hide the evidence,
Louis Grasso, Donato Poliseno, Conor Flynn and Thomas Guido, III, named in an indictment separate from the one that involves Servis and Navarro, will be arraigned Mar. 17.
Jim Margolin, the chief public information officer at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, would neither confirm nor deny that more indictments and arrests are forthcoming, but said that “the investigation is ongoing.”
The Daily Racing Form quoted a source who predicted this story is just beginning.
“This is just the starting point,” the source told the Form. “This is going to get ugly. It really will.”
The New York Gaming Commission announced Tuesday that it had suspended the licenses of 11 people named in the indictment, including Navarro and Servis. It also issued a statement, which read: “These allegations are troubling and go to the heart of horse racing integrity. Once the Commission became aware of alleged criminal behavior, we promptly contacted the New York State Police and have worked cooperatively since. Racing has no room for those who seek to manipulate outcomes at the expense of the wagering public and the health of the equine athlete. We trust that any proven allegation will be dealt with severely.”
Keeneland became the latest voice to denounce those who were involved in the cheating scandal, issuing a statement Tuesday from Bill Thomason, President & CEO of Keeneland Association Inc that read: “The administration of illegal medication and other improper substances to our equine athletes, as outlined by the indictments brought forth by federal prosecutors, is simply unacceptable. Putting profits and self-interest over the safety and integrity of our sport and its athletes has never, and will never, be tolerated by Keeneland. As the legal proceedings against the individuals identified by federal prosecutors unfold, the Thoroughbred racing community must continue to strengthen our screening processes. In the meantime, Keeneland will suspend the individuals in question from participating in training, racing or sales activities on our property. We have faith in the legal system and appreciate the work of the federal law enforcement, including the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney's office. Ensuring the safety and well-being of these horses will always be our top priority.”
Tuesday also marked the first time any of those who were indicted spoke publicly. Michael Tannuzzo, among the trainers indicted, was permitted on the backstretch at Belmont to oversee the dispersal of his 11 horses and spoke to the Racing Form's David Grening. The indictment alleges that on or about May 15, 2019, Tannuzzo arranged with Navarro to receive on Navarro's behalf a package of blood builder performance-enhancing drugs at Navarro's residence in New Jersey.
“The guy's my best friend,” Tannuzzo said of Navarro, as reported by the Racing Form.”He asked me to go pick up a package in front of his house and bring it to the barn.”
Tannuzzo denied that he had ever doped any of his horses.
“I didn't give the horses anything,” Tannuzzo told the Form. “I saw the photos of the drugs [in the indictment]. I've never seen that stuff in my life. It's guilt by association. [Navarro] was my best friend. We talked about horses a million times on the phone. He never said 'I got this secret magic potion I could give you.'”