Florida Investigation: Vet Said Cibelli Told Him ‘Keep Me Out of It’
Orlando Paraliticci sat in his Honda Odyssey, a nervous wreck. Only minutes before, he had been caught by a Tampa Bay Downs official injecting a pain-blocking agent into a horse's right foreleg hours before it was to race – an egregious, illegal act. And now, Jane Cibelli, the trainer the equine veterinarian would later say had ordered him to give the injection, was calling.
He answered his phone warily.
“You stupid mother——!” Cibelli yelled at Paraliticci. She had a few other choice words for him, Paraliticci would later tell state officials.
He returned to Barn 11 to tell Cibelli what had happened.
Association veterinarian Kristen Pastir and veterinary assistant Joelyn Rigione walked by Stall 46 in that same barn around 9:10 a.m. Jan. 27, 2013, just as Paraliticci and his assistant, Marcos Ortiz, were treating Raven Train, who was entered in the afternoon's second race, a $16,000 claiming event. Paraliticci had Raven Train's right front leg flexed and was injecting the area near a large nerve by the accessory carpal bone with 3 milliliters of P Bloc – an anti-inflammatory and pain blocker whose principal agent was Sarapin, a natural substance produced by Sarraceniaceae, a pitcher plant.
Jorge Garibay, who worked as a groom for Cibelli, was holding Raven Train by the lead shank while Ortiz had a nose twitch on the horse. Paraliticci, who saw Pastir and Rigione come onto the scene, finished injecting the leg. Then, switching to a larger syringe (30-to-50 cc's, Pastir estimated), Paraliticci injected what he would later say was a mixture of the anti-bleeder medication furosemide and Solu-Delta-Cortef (a corticosteroid that is permitted on race-day in Florida) into the horse's shoulder.
Knowing he'd been caught in the act doing something illegal, Paraliticci quickly left the stall, saying, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.”
Pastir called Doug Murray, an agent with the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau and then notified the stewards what had happened. She then drew three vials of blood from Raven Train. Pastir was unable to retrieve the syringes Paraliticci had used to inject Raven Train's shin and shoulder.
Cibelli was not in the barn when Paraliticci was treating Raven Train. After he explained to the trainer what had occurred, the native of England lit into Paraliticci, the veterinarian would later say to investigators with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
“You stupid mother——,” he quoted Cibelli as telling him. “Don't you involve me. Don't tell them I had anything to do with it. Keep me out of it. You better hope this stays in house.”
A report by the state investigator said Paraliticci later told him that he is “terrified of Cibelli.” When asked why, he responded that Cibelli and Tampa Bay Downs vice president of marketing Margo Flynn – the trainer's partner – “have threatened many people with being thrown off the track and being excluded from TBD. They threatened to ruin his business…they have a lot of power.”
The same morning that Paraliticci said Cibelli threatened him, TRPB agent Murray interviewed the veterinarian and the trainer separately. Murray's report said Paraliticci “injected high splint (bone) on his own. He wanted to be a hero; it was a mistake.”
Cibelli expressed surprise to the TRPB agent that Paraliticci would inject the horse in the leg. Her instructions to him for Raven Train when they met that morning around 6 a.m., she said, was “5 cc's Lasix and nothing else.”
Despite the blow-up between them, Paraliticci said he continued to do Cibelli's vet work until Tampa Bay Downs officials kicked him off the premises on Feb. 3, using the track's private property rights of exclusion. In addition to the illegal injection, a search of Paraliticci's vehicle uncovered a gallon jug of a compounded clenbuterol from Essential Pharmacy Compounding of Omaha, Neb. Ventipulmin is the only FDA-approved clenbuterol for use in horses.
Paraliticci said Cibelli called him after he was thrown out of Tampa Bay Downs, reiterating “not to involve her or tell anyone she ordered the treatment pre-race on Raven Train. There was also an implied threat in these phone calls,” a report from investigators said.
Stewards had set a Feb. 15 hearing date for Paraliticci but that was called off after James Decker, investigations supervisor for the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering Office of Investigations, opened complaints against both Paraliticci and Cibelli.
Peter Berube, vice president and general manager of Tampa Bay Downs, said the track was unable to take any action against Cibelli until the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering concluded its investigations. A state official disagrees.
“There is nothing in the law that prevents a permit holder from taking action during the time of an ongoing investigation related to what might be the same subject matter,” said Tajiana Ancora-Brown, director of communications for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations.
Paraliticci retained a lawyer, Michael Sierra, who was present when the veterinarian was interviewed by a state investigator on March 7. Paraliticci said he had worked for Cibelli for over five years, billing her stable approximately $20,000 to $30,000 per month. He added that Tampa Bay vice president Flynn handles Cibelli's bookkeeping. Cibelli received a 15% discount, said Paraliticci, adding that “she took an additional 25% discount when she paid her bill.”
(UPDATE: Jane Cibelli told the Paulick Report she does receive a 15% “prompt payment” discount but the allegation that she “took an additional 25% discount when she paid her (veterinary) bill” is “completely untrue.” The bills go directly to the owner after her approval, she said. “There is no padding of bills. I do not pay owners' vet bills and make money off of that.”
Cibelli said she could not comment on any other aspect of the case until the investigation is closed.)
On the morning of Jan. 27, Paraliticci said, he met with Cibelli between 5:30-6:30 a.m. to discuss that day's treatment of the stable's horses. Both he and assistant Ortiz, who was interviewed on March 13, said Cibelli uses a black and white composition notebook as a “Vet Book.” In the book that day, Paraliticci said, was a note that read: “Raven Train Splint?” It was a problem that Dr. Thomas Brokken had treated with DMSO and ice boots when Raven Train was at Gulfstream Park a month earlier.
“Cibelli told him that the horse Raven Train was to race this date and she ordered him to shoot up the right splint,” the state investigator's report reads. “Paralaticci claimed he was going to object but he knew that Cibelli would threaten and berate him as she has done in the past.” Cibelli advised the veterinarian to use Sarapin, the report states, quoting Paraliticci as saying “that this block is a substance that doesn't show on blood tests.”
When Ortiz was interviewed, he told investigators that he remembered Paraliticci was “upset that Cibelli ordered him to inject Raven Train's right front splint.” While he said he was not in the office when Cibelli and Paraliticci met early the morning of Jan. 27, Ortiz, who had worked for the veterinarian for five years, said he didn't believe Paraliticci when he told TRPB agent Murray he injected the leg on his own. Paraliticci would “only do what he was instructed to by Cibelli or (assistant trainer Robert) Holman,” Ortiz said. He also told investigators there were previous instances where Cibelli or Holman told Paraliticci to do pre-race treatment that involved “pain blocks in legs and hoofs of other horses.” He said Cibelli pays well but “is also very abusive if she doesn't get her way.”
Finally, Ortiz was quoted by investigators as saying that “in his 40 years of dealing and working around horses and being a vet assistant, he had never known a veterinarian to do any work without the trainer's instruction, order or request.”
Holman, who has worked as Cibelli's assistant for over three years, told investigators in a March 19 interview that he “knew nothing” about Raven Train's treatment. He said he never asked Cibelli about the Jan. 27 incident, the injection of Raven Train, or why Cibelli was so upset that morning. In fact, Holman told investigators he was “blissfully unaware” of what was happening.
“Holman's answers appeared to have been coached,” the report from the state investigator said.
On May 15, Paraliticci accepted a 90-day license suspension as part of a stipulated agreement with state officials that said he would “cooperate with the Division's continuing investigation or prosecution of other parties/licensees.”
Cibelli continued to race at Tampa Bay Downs until moving her stable north in the springtime to Monmouth Park in New Jersey, where she was leading trainer in both 2011 and 2012.
Nearly nine months after the Raven Train incident occurred in Stall 46 of Barn 11 at Tampa Bay Downs, the communications director for the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulations said the investigation of Cibelli is “ongoing.”