View From The Eighth Pole: In Rojas Trial, HBPA Plays The Part Of Enabler

by | 07.05.2017 | 10:59am
Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association

It must be disheartening at times to be an honest Thoroughbred owner or trainer, especially one that happens to race in Pennsylvania.

It's bad enough, as we learned last week in the federal trial of trainer Murray Rojas, that widespread and systematic cheating has been going on at Penn National racecourse in Grantville, Pa. for more than a decade.

Making matters worse is the financial support provided to Rojas by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association through a legal defense fund the horsemen's organization established last year. The Pennsylvania HBPA, the representative horseman's organization at Penn National, also helped pay her legal fees.

This adds insult to injury.

Think about it for a minute: The local and National HBPA helped pay the attorneys for a trainer accused on 21 felony counts related to drugging horses illegally on race day and convicted on 14 of those charges. A jury said this criminal activity went on from January 2002 through September 2014.

The jury voted not guilty on seven counts of wire fraud, but guilty on 14 counts of misbranding and conspiracy to misbrand. Attorneys for Rojas had previously moved to have the misbranding charges thrown out, but a pre-trial order from Judge Sylvia Rambo denied the motion. Rojas plans to appeal the conviction.

The evidence in the case was abundant. Internal records at veterinary practices run by Drs. Kevin Brophy and Fernando Motta showed Rojas requested race day treatments of therapeutic drugs in violation of Pennsylvania rules and regulations. Treatments were performed by veterinarians Brophy, Motta, Christopher Korte and Renee Nodine, who then had invoices backdated and racing commission treatment records falsified to avoid detection. The four veterinarians pleaded guilty in April 2015 to illegally administering drugs to horses and cooperated with the prosecution.

This was not a case built around a positive test resulting from accidental contamination of a human drug or a picogram overage of a therapeutic medication. It was ongoing, organized cheating – gaming the system at the expense of honest owners and trainers and sticking up the middle finger in the face of horseplayers.

So why on earth would the National HBPA and its Pennsylvania affiliate put up a nickel to defend Rojas?

During a break in the proceedings last Tuesday, Todd Mostoller, the Pennsylvania HBPA's executive director, told me his organization helped pay for the defense over a concern that the next time a trainer gets a bad test for a minor overage of a therapeutic drug, he or she will wind up in federal court facing a felony charge.

That argument is preposterous scaremongering, falsely setting the federal government up as a bogeyman.

To compare a minor drug overage to the cesspool of cheating and corruption at Penn National indicates how grossly out of touch with reality Mostoller and his associate at the National HBPA, chief executive officer Eric Hamelback, have become.

Without the FBI investigation that began more than five years ago, we would know nothing about the rancid activities that trainer Stephanie Beattie, an admitted cheater who became an FBI informant, described under oath during the Rojas trial. We would not know how some veterinarians brazenly broke the rules because they knew which drugs were being tested for and which ones were not at the state's laboratory. We would not know about the corruption in the racing office and the clocker's stand.

The federal government brings with it immense subpoena powers and has the means to get people to talk in ways racing commission investigators or local law enforcement cannot.

I understand why enablers like Mostoller and Hamelback rejoiced when the jury found Rojas not guilty on seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy. They are hoping the FBI will turn tail and let horse racing return to policing itself. They must believe the status quo was working just fine before the feds showed up. And maybe it was, for the cheaters and crooks, but not for honest horsemen, and certainly not for the betting public. This is a shameful chapter in the history of the HBPA.

That's my view from the eighth pole.

Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National HBPA authored the following response to this piece:

The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Pennsylvania HBPA support clean racing in our sport. Period. Despite what Mr. Paulick writes on his website, Pennsylvania HBPA enacted sweeping changes at Penn National Racetrack years ago. July 11, 2017 will mark the sixth anniversary since the organization became the first in the nation to ban veterinarians from treatment stalls. They also mandated that only independent, third parties can administer race day treatments. These practices have become the national standard.

The National Owner and Trainer Legal Defense Fund, the Pennsylvania HBPA, as well as other HBPA affiliates, provided legal support for thoroughbred trainer Murray Rojas because they strongly believe the federal Department of Justice overreached on what is clearly a state regulatory issue.

The court correctly found Ms. Rojas not guilty of charges related to this attempt to set a new legal precedent. We also take issue with how the federal government applies unlimited resources against a member who is charged with a crime and brings them to the brink of bankruptcy. We support the ability of our membership to properly defend themselves in the court of law, and we respect the ultimate decision of the court.

  • Tinky

    Preach, Brother Ray!

  • ben

    1000% agree with your view, It is an absolute shame seeing the HBPA acting like this.

    In the Netherlands, the Dutch Jockeyclub is handing over licences etc. They are paid.

    The owners are having their own committee.

    The trainers are having their own committee

    The last two committee,s giving advices to the jockeyclub, but the jockeyclub does Not implement those advices.

    The funding is settled as a membership only.

  • Buzzer

    The FEDS aren’t going to go arrest anyone for a mere positive. As with anything the govt gets involved in they are looking for a pattern of deception and criminal activity. If both Rojas and Beattie served time on the HBPA board and the HBPA paid for this defense, is this pattern of behavior outlined by the govt against Beattie and Rojas acceptable behavior for horseman? Since they paid for Rojas, they’ve set a precedent and now should pay all legal fees moving forward. It will be interesting to see if they pay the legal fees of another trainer brought on charge who is not in the coveted inner circle at Pen.

    It seems to me the HBPA prefers to spend a lot of money on litigating criminal behavior instead of putting that money toward better integrity. But that’s just my opinion. I guess the next 4-5 years will play out as it does.

  • herewego

    The National HBPA did not fund Rojas’s defense.

    • Buzzer

      Who did?

      • herewego

        Ray is correct regarding the Pennsylvania HBPA’s funding of the defense but the National HBPA did not contribute.

        • RayPaulick

          As I wrote, support was provided through the National Thoroughbred Owners & Trainers Legal Defense Fund Foundation, Inc., which is affiliated with the National HBPA. National HBPA general counsel Peter Ecabert confirmed in February the Fund has helped pay Robert Goldman, attorney for Rojas.

          • herewego

            That is not what you wrote.
            “Making matters worse is the financial support provided to Rojas by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association through a legal defense fund the horsemen’s organization established last year”

            The above directly from the article says the National HBPA provided financial support. That is not the case. The fund you are referring to has never received any monies from the National HBPA.

            You are wrong but you never seem to let that get in the way do you Ray.

          • Jon

            Funny, you hide behind fake name.

          • herewego

            Funny that you choose my comment to make this observation on “Jon” as very few of the comments in this or any other topic are by people using their real names.

            Doesn’t change the fact that what I’m saying is 100% accurate.

          • Jon

            That’s my name. Sorry the gravy train for you central pa is going to come to an end….

          • Larry Ensor

            I assume by being an “affiliate” just means the funds are coming from the same set of “letters”, just rearranged. From the left pocket to the right. For business and accounting purposes?

            Either way it begs the question how much money was “given” paid?

          • Manefan

            Wow, arguing semantics in this case doesn’t look good on you.

  • Hamish

    Man, it seems more and more that the HBPA types can not feel shame. I suppose that’s what they are taught: deny, deny, deny. That’s a bad culture.
    I believe I recall reading that Stephanie Beattie wore a wire. for the feds. Was any of that evidence presented at the Rojas trial or is that something yet to come?

    • boy thats the truth

      the real corruption starts long b4 race day lets be honest..

    • ben

      It is much worse than a state of denial.

      The cheaters are getting legal defense, when they are in court, for ripping of, honest horseman.

      The honest horseman should be presented at the convention, to show their displeasure.

      How low can you go.

  • I agree with your sentiments, Ray.

  • Peter Scarnati

    As far as I know, “dues” to become a “member” of the HBPA are removed from horsemen’s bookkeeper accounts as a “starter” fee. I could be wrong about that, but I am unaware of any owner or trainer who is “billed” at his/her residence or business for dues to become HBPA members. In addition, I am quite certain that membership is “automatic” when someone (owner or trainer) starts a horse in any jurisdiction. This is why the “turnout” is typically extremely low in any election the HBPA holds — many folks don’t even know they are members.
    In light of these “membership” and “dues” requirements, in my view, the voices of the HBPA — both locally and nationally — are for the most part the radical elements of the “membership” and are in no way reflective of ALL owners and trainers. Therefore, leadership is basically free to do whatever they want, no matter how repugnant those actions may be. Their paying legal fees in this instance is a perfect example of leadership gone completely and totally amok. Does anyone think for a minute these “leaders,” i.e. Mostoller and Hamelback, would reach into their own pockets to help fund Rojas’ defense?
    It is so easy to spend other people’s money. Just ask any local, state or federal government worker…. and any leader of the HBPA.

    • johnnyknj

      You are spot on. Horseman’s organizations largely represent and benefit those in control, with little regard for their largely uninformed and often apathetic or cowed “membership”. IMHO, they are doing more to destroy racing than any other industry entity.

  • johnnyknj

    “It must be disheartening at times to be an honest Thoroughbred owner or trainer, especially one that happens to race in Pennsylvania.” Right you are Ray. We think long and hard before running there. Entering in PA is like an honest company trying to do business in a mob-controlled industry. Think garbage hauling in NYC in the 70’s.

    • boy thats the truth

      BOY THATS THE TRUTH !

    • Susan

      Agree – we insist that the horses run based on their ability, not due to some jacked up chemical put in their system. We run them and then breed them or move them to show barns as hunter jumpers. It is imperative that we have sound horses and know their personalities and talents that are unmasked by drugs. Talented mares we keep. Other mares and geldings that are done with racing move on to become loved pets of 15 year old girls. We need to know that they are safe animals. I put a lot of onus on the owners – they have a responsibility to their animals and a responsibility to keep their trainers in check. This may sound naïve but it is the right thing to do by the horse.

    • Matthew Weaver

      That a reasonable way of responding. Don’t run your horses there if you are an owner or don’t gamble on their races if you are a bettor. This is what makes a free market economy great.

  • Boy thats the truth

    special rules for special ppl .Pa horse racing

  • Jon

    Spot on Ray. Love you have the guts to bring things to light. Funny thing is Beattie is still allowed to run horses at penn. Cause she’s “clean” since 2014. But in 2011 she denied cheating…. Whoever wastes their money betting that track is a part of problem, not solution.

  • Boy thats the truth

    Beattie should have been banned for life.

  • Kevin Callinan

    There now needs to be a strong response on the national level by the organizations and tracks that consider themselves ‘clean’- 1) stop simulcasting Penn National. Several of the principles or their ‘beards’ are still training. Any state or racetrack that is still profiting from the Penn signal is endorsing their behavior. 2} take all of the Graded/blacktype races from the PA tracks. The results are suspect and now PARX has decided that two horses can win the same stake w/o a deadheat. In light of this recent decision it seems particularly ludicrous to elevate the Penn Derby to a Grade 1- return that status to the Wood where it belongs.

    • Bryan Langlois

      Just to clarify it was not PARX but the Director of Thoroughbred racing, Tom Chukas, under the powers given to him by the State Horse Racing Commission that made both horses technical winners. The PARX stewards DQd the horse, rightfully so. The dual winner ruling was created during a negotiation after the ruling was appealed. It is not often I give props to PARX, but in this case they did the right thing.

      • Hamish

        This man Chukas was given the authority by the PA racing commission to make bad case precedent for the entire horse industry? Based on his background and experience with the game, that makes no sense whatsoever? He works for them, PA commission at fault here.

        • Bryan Langlois

          According to the way the law was written, the Commission can determine what authority it bestows upon the Bureau Directors to run the day to day operations and decisions regarding certain rule violations and penalties I guess. It was mentioned by a few Commission Members at the last meeting that they wanted to state for those to know that they did not have anything to do with the decision or a say in what the decision was. They did say it was concerning that such a precedent setting decision was made without the Commissions consideration, but no one really came out and said they were against it. I was a little disappointed that not one of the horsemans or breeders groups there voiced their concern or disappointment in the decision, which I guess is a silent way of saying they supported it.

          • Hamish

            It’s a bad regulatory structure in PA Bryan as the horsemen essentially wrote the law that created the new racing bureaus. Chukas is their fall guy on this particular issue and I bet Tom is not happy about that at all. This black type race outcome determination was not a “day to day” decision at all, but one that has the potential to change the integrity of the black type status races in America.

          • disqus_wZUB6w9ANy

            I disagree, commissioner Jones stated he was against the ruling and wanted everyone present to know that the commissioners were not consulted regarding the ruling (just prior to public comment time). DeBunda then added a gratuitous ‘won’t happen again statement. But all others remained silent. Sad.

      • Kevin Callinan

        Bryan, I enjoy your thoughtful input on this and other topics. I think in this case we are dealing with semantics. PA racing as a whole makes one poor judgement after another- the PARX brand takes the hit.

  • horsepower

    Ray – Thank you for providing HOPE !

  • gus stewart

    The clarity of this information ray watched happen, and him giving the fans and others involved in sport its results, is sad, would be the only word. So do we wait across the country for our officials to fix problem,, commisionar. Do we wait for our government to step in because not of corruption, it will be on behalf of the horses. That may take along time. Now we all know the best way to appropriate change is hitting them In the wallet. I think all of us wont stop betting, but if we cut bets in half,, this may get some attention,, easy as 50 to win make it 25. Just something to think about when going online or at a track. Win bets really are not life changing. P 6 at santa anita yesterday, i get betting a bigger amount there, pk 5 maybe again a little less,, we can try

    • Lily FaPootz

      I quit betting long ago ….

      • gus stewart

        Well your way ahead of me and many others. I dont bet as much, i dont buy racing forms any longer play online free forms when u make a bet at track. I must say for all the years going to all so cal tracks in my 20s and 30s with wife girlfriends groups of friends when ontrack was fun 25 30000 people it was alot of fun. Del mar was more exciting then any sporting event, and ive been to probably 10000 sporting events nba championships la kings stanley cup game.. maybe stanley cup was close. I feel somewhat guilty that i dont go ontrack very rarely. If you have no ontrack excitement crowds looking forward to horse rivalries, and for men very few women, why would anyone in their 20s or thirties go to a horse racing track. Like i said, all of the problems, meds perception, and marketing in this biz is worse then bowling,, and im not kidding

  • SaratogaJ

    Ray, thank you for the great work on this story. Thanks also for the excellent investigative journalism on other industry related subjects in the past.

    • Charles Smith

      The PA HBPA director setting up the federal government up as a bogeyman isn’t exactly plowing fresh ground strategy wise. There’s a guy in DC with orange hair and small hands who’s been using that gambit for quite some time now.

      • Chuck

        Boo Hoo

      • Andy in the desert

        Jeeze, I come to forums and sites like this to view articles and information about HORSE RACING.

        If I want to see ad hominem political attacks on the current President, [whether you like him or not, just like his predecessor, he is the PRESIDENT] believe me, there are a plethora of sites where I can find that.

        So can we keep the political wisecracks and other things non horse outta the conversation please?!?

        • Charles Smith

          I respect your right to your opinion. I’ll point out to you that this site, and others like it are moderated. In the 4 years I’ve been posting on and off here, I’ve seen a number of posts that, for whatever reason, took aim at or offense to President Obama. I did’nt agree with the gist of the posts, but I saw no reason to muzzle the posters. America is a free counry, by far the greatest nation on earth, and freedom of speech is a great part of that. If for whatever reason, the PR site moderators take issue with something I post and moderate it, I’ll accept their decision with grace. Have a nice day.

          • Andy in the desert

            I understand all that you point out.
            I would also like to point out that two wrongs don’t make a right.
            You too have a blessed day.
            Shalom in Yeshua.

  • Condor

    HBPA are a disgrace, they have nailed there colours to the mast in supporting the drugging and abuse of racehorses. The word ‘horsemen ‘should be removed from there association name because no true horsemen would support this crap.

  • SaratogaJ

    Thinking back, this reminds me of my frequent visits to the Great Barrington and Northampton Fairs in Massachusetts each September. Both infields were accessible to fans through tunnels though few took advantage of it. I can recall standing by the backstretch rail and listening to the passing jocks reminding others of the race scripts and sometimes admonishing the jock on the predetermined winner for not being able to get their mount to move to the lead while others held their horses or opened a path up the rail. The backstretch was no more than a furlong so the conspirators had to act quickly and sometimes frantically.
    When Andy Beyer wrote about the Mass fair circuit in his second book, it forever memorialized what we all knew.

  • togahombre

    in ny honest law abiding taxpayers have the privilege of paying our crooked politicians legal bills all the time

  • Hammertime

    The statements that Mr.Mostoller made about why the HPBA paid Rojas’s attorney fees are the most ridiculous statements ever made. With that kind of statement I wonder if Mostoller has something to hide. He has never been in touch with reality and has done absolutely nothing for the horsemen unless you have a last name that is on his agenda. Once again he has shown how he misuses horsemen’s money.

  • Hamish

    Why not modify and modernize the IHA of 1978? Things have changed since then in all walks of life and business, now almost 40 years ago! For the whole horse industry to be tied down by the local horsemen’s group as a result of this law is silly. Change it, fix the problem.

    • Concerned Observer

      Horse industry exec’s (appointed by no one except themselves) are terrified of reopening the IHA to congressional discussion. Horse racing has had such an advantage (never utilized due to industry infighting and personal profit taking) that could go away in an instant….if the act was reopened.

      • Hamish

        Perhaps there were different horse industry execs in place with a different mindset, as in December of 2000 the IHA was reopened to modify language and expand the definition of an “interstate off-track wager?” Internet and electronic media verbiage was included in order to expand what constituted a legal wager to the horse industries advantage. It’s been reopened before, so at such a critical time in horse racing’s history, why not again, of course with an appropriate industry plan and objectives that are satisfactory to Congress?

  • Gordon calhoun

    But wait a minute, Ray…thats the HBPA’s job. Its no different than a police union hiring a lawyer for an officer who shot someone at a traffic stop. No, I am not defending the guy. But lets be realistic about that the HBPA’s role.

    • Buzzer

      What an awful analogy.

  • Guest

    Curious view that the federal government has unlimited resources to expend on any matter. Or that anyone it taxes or borrows from to obtain those resources does, either. So stupid.

    • Lily FaPootz

      Curious that you find defrauding bettors across state lines a “stupid” matter for the FBI to investigate and prosecute.

      • Guest

        Huh??

  • Golf Todd

    Mostoller has spent more time and effort on his vastly overrated golf game than actually helping the horsemen. If recognition of quality work, is equivalent to clocking his own horses as he makes fun of the average starving slugs, then he deserves an Eclipse award.

  • David Worley

    This is a good piece of investigative journalism and Hamelback’s response is totally ridiculous.

  • Noval

    Standing up for ones principles is often harder than the doing the popular thing. The Court found Murray Rojas not guilty of wire fraud, the charge that caused the HBPA to get involved in the first place. By standing up against overbearing federal involvement, the HBPA makes sure that a trainer having a lasix overage or the wrong turf shoe doesn’t automatically transform into a federal offense. No, it’s not a popular position taken by the HBPA, but legally it is the right one.

    • Jon

      Then Now the HBPA should set up a legal fund to go after the 95-98% of cheaters at penn on behalf of the 2-5% honest horse people.

      • Noval

        As someone who occasionally has a horse running at Penn National, I can say that I am happy with any attempt by the stewards and racing commission to enforce the rules. What I don’t want to do is see vendettas or mole hills blown up into the size of mountains. You do know how Murray Rojas came to the attention of the FBI, don’t you? She was hoping to rat out opposing trainers. She ended up being convicted of the federal equivalent of a speeding ticket. Sad.

        • Jon

          Where was the racing commission from 2002-2014 for the betting public? Where were they when A clocker, racing official were taking kick backs? And back stretch was like wild wild west?

          • Canarse

            Now you are getting to the real issue! These are the people that continue to allow cheaters to work at their track(s). When is the FBI going to investigate them?

          • Noval

            The FBI threw everything at Murray Rojas – wires, immunity deals, plea bargains, cooperating witnesses – and lost the biggest charges in the case against her. Either there’s not much “there” there, or the Feds did a poor job of building a case. My money is on the latter, with a little of the former thrown in for good measure.

          • Jon

            Not much there… lol 8 people where already charged. Rojas guilty of 14 felonies not misdemeanors….And Beattie admits under oath that she cheated…. wow

          • Canarse

            I sure hope the other charges are not tossed. She deserves to do some time.

          • Johndoe

            Glad to see someone has an understanding of the facts. The accusation of”doping” is just not accurate. Doping infers the use of illegal substances. I urge contributers on this thread to research the characteristics of the drugs Rojas was convicted of illegally using. Timing is the issue, not the substances. All of those substances in this case are therapeutic and legal if administered at least 24 hrs prerace and by a vet. Whatever judgements that are made from these facts are fair game, judgements based on assumption and conjecture are not only inaccurate but harmful to an already challenging reputation that Penn National and racing in general already suffer from.

          • Jon

            Then why did beattie under oath say 95-98% trainers CHEAT at penn national? If they weren’t illegal why misbrand them? Ran by crooks for years duping betting public from top management to trainers. Not anymore. place is and always will be a dump. Slot purses just make $5,000 claimers look faster……lol

          • Johndoe

            Treating with legal substances inside the 24 hour window is cheating, but I haven’t yet seen or read in any of the reporting any mention of an illegal substance. Please correct me if I’m mistaken. Think what you will but again, have an opinion based on facts. If the information I’ve seen is incorrect or incomplete, please correct but support that correction.

  • Barry

    Is Murray Rojas in the witness protection program? No photographs of her have been published during this entire controversy. Why is that?

  • minismom

    have a trainer that owes me some $$$ wonder if they would help me out – guy died and daughter wants nothing to do with this – amount is 6500 –

  • bill landes

    Eric:

    If we are celebrating a 6 year anniversary of new race day vet procedures at Penn—how does that jibe with Ms Rojas being convicted of criminal activity through September 2014? 2017-2014= 3 years; doesn’t sound like we should be celebrating anything.

  • Charles Smith

    If Mr. Hamelback’s goal was to portray Ms. Rojas as a victim of federal overreach, his effort falied. Yes, the federal government has unlimited resources to bring against anyone in it’s criminal crosshairs but ANY criminal defendant at ANY level, federal, state or local faces the same situation. Ms. Rojas is not a sympathetic figure. Penn National has been a cesspool since the late 70s. Penn management moved quickly to ban Ms. Rojas, her husband and Stephanie Beattie after Ms. Rojas’ conviction. They got what they had coming.

  • ben

    It would be most interesting to dug into the betting pattern on the races, were the freud has been taken place.

  • ben

    You just seem to forget, that they made money, by stealing it ( cheating) from others

  • gus stewart

    Ok maybe 6000 or 7000, i worked for a sports franchise and an arena for around 20 years that had 2 to 3 teams that played there, then going on road to almost every arena in the states,, so yea maybe not 10000, i dont know everything about everything for sure, but when i say on this blog i know more then 95 percent of the folks working in the horse racing biz about marketing and branding a sport, i think im qualified.

  • Matthew Weaver

    It’s interesting. Ray says that clearly because of the amount of times the trainer allegedly cheated then questioning state vs federal jurisdiction is ridiculous. It’s the equivalent of calling the Feds “bogeymen”. Well fortunately a lot of us believe in something called the Constitution and State’s rights. This is a State issue. Because Ray is determined to Federalize oversight of horse racing and this case fits that narrative, then anyone, including the HBPA, becomes complicit in helping this trainer to cheat, according to him. These types of cases set legal precedents. So while this particular trainer was a habitual cheat, the next time anyone accused on the backstretch for any reason could have their reputation n profession destroyed by the weight of US attorneys n the FBI if this is not challenged. By the way, the state took away Rojas n Beattie’s license to train AND Penn National banned then from their property. So believe it or not Ray the CORRECT jurisdiction did their jobs without the Barr-Tonko act and more Federal government involvement.

  • billy

    Commonwealth new era racing with Todd at the helm, by the way Todd could you tell us the trainers you use and where you race… Mr beattie I do believe at penn and Presque both tracks you directly have your hands in, conflict of interest here a lil Todd now I know why you got the defense fund and act like your doing the right thing cause your directly part of the problem who else is in your partnership besides santanna makes more sense to me now everything about this is crooked

  • Shemp Howard

    All I can say is…”You only live once.”

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