Thoroughbred trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro were among 19 defendants in a Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing doping scandal who pleaded not guilty on federal charges in an arraignment and initial pre-trial conference conducted telephonically on Thursday by District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil in the Southern District of New York.
The defendants – trainers, veterinarians and distributors of products described by the U.S. attorney as performance enhancing drugs – were arrested March 9 as part of a long-running FBI investigation in multiple states on the East Coast and Midwest. They were charged with drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy and, in the case of Standardbred horseman Nicholas Surick, obstruction.
There are related cases that bring the total number of defendants in the doping scandal to 29, plus four others charged in a money laundering scheme that involves racing and the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
The arraignment was postponed from its original date and held via telephone because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the effects of which may extend the timeline for pre-trial discovery and the trial itself.
Vyskocil set the next conference for 11 a.m. June 30. She said a third conference will take place in the fall, at which point a trial date will be established.
Andrew C. Adams, who will be prosecuting the case along with fellow Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benet Jeanne Kearney and Sarah Mortazavi, outlined investigative techniques used in the case and previewed what he called some of the “voluminous” discovery the government intends to roll out in three phases in the coming months.
Adams, who said the investigation began “several years ago,” indicated there is a year's worth of wiretapped phone conversations, with “between three to four phones intercepted at once. Certain phones were picked up early in the case, dropped, and spun off to other defendants' phones.”
Search warrants were executed on multiple premises, a small pharmacy, and on one horse, Adams said. He added that the “fruits of the grand jury investigations” also include bank records and that a number of electronic devices were seized, including cell phones, computers, hard drives and thumb drives.
“The investigation also continues,” said Adams, suggesting more indictments are possible. “As part of what I will describe as discovery, there are still documents and records coming in to the government from various parties…quite a queue of electronic devices still within the FBI's control for which warrants have been obtained. Imaging and pertinence reviews will take some time.”
In addition, Adams said, “There are a number of post-arrest statements” from defendants. He said the prospect of early dispositions of some cases could determine whether there are superseding indictments of additional individuals.
Phase two of discovery, Adams said, will include “other kinds of business records, paper documents that we have on hand as well as audio files of (telephone) intercepts and consensual recordings.” That information will take about one month to compile and distribute to the defendants and their attorneys, he said.
Adams called the third and final phase of discovery “more time consuming” because it involves extraction of electronic records from the various devices seized and the FBI's review “pursuant to any warrant that applies” to the devices.
“Realistically, it will take six months to complete,” Adams said. “In light of the volume and the manpower constraints (due to the COVID-19 disruptions), I think that's a realistic estimate.”
Robert Baum, attorney for defendant Alexander Chan, said there may be “tens of thousands of conversations” to review from the wiretaps. “We are hopeful we will have a reasonable opportunity to review the discovery,” he said.
Vyskocil tacked on two amendments to the bail conditions set for the defendants, one of which stated that they are not permitted to have any contact with racehorses “without supervision of the owner of the property where the horse is located.” She asked the prosecution what that restriction was aimed at achieving.
“Given the nature of the charges here,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Mortazavi said, “that the defendants were engaged in covertly administering performance enhancing drugs to racehorses, we thought it was appropriate to mitigate the concern that that conduct may continue, to require some form of supervision of the defendants if they are going to continue having physical contact with racehorses.
“We cannot be everywhere at once to monitor these defendants completely,” she continued. “It still permits some level of oversight. In many jurisdictions, it is against the licensing authorities' rules for trainers to possess certain equipment, such as syringes or electroshock machines, and having at least a person present to observe whether such devices are possessed by any of the defendants would be a level of oversight more than we would have.”
Vyskocil strengthened a condition of release that defendants notify regulatory agencies about the criminal charges in states where the individuals are licensed. She amended the condition so that defendants agree to comply with all regulations and orders set by those regulatory agencies.
Rita Marie Glavin, attorney for Jason Servis, asked Vyskocil to consider whether compliance with regulatory agency orders (i.e., an administrative hearing) might compromise a defendant's Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
“Good point,” Vyskocil said, adding that attorneys can work out language with prosecutors to ensure protection of those Constitutional rights.
The defendants (listed with their attorneys) pleading not guilty were:
Jorge Navarro (Jason K. Kreiss); Erica Garcia (Deborah Austern Colson); Michael Tannuzzo (Donald T. Rollock); Gregory Skelton (Isabelle A. Kirshner); Ross Cohen (Bruce A. Barket); Seth Fishman (Andrew Simmons Feldman); Lisa Giannelli (Louis V. Fasulo); Jordan Fishman (Patrick James Joyce); Christopher Oakes (Terrance P. Flynn); Jason Servis (Rita Marie Glavin); Kristian Rhein (Stephen P. Scaring); Alexander Chan (Robert M. Baum); Henry Argueta (Esereosonobrughue Joy Onaodowan); Nicholas Surick (Andrew Joseph Mollica and Timothy M. Donohue); Rebecca Linke (David Wikstrom) and Christopher Marino (Guy Oksenhendler).
Navarro and Cohen were the only defendants who appeared with their attorneys and spoke during the arraignment.
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