A money-laundering investigation conducted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York – the same agency that charged trainers Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro and 27 others in an illegal racehorse doping scheme last week – has led to the arrest of five men, including Venezuela native Alfredo Lichoa, a longtime Central Florida farm manager and veterinarian who began training Thoroughbreds in 2018. They were arrested on March 9, the same day the FBI raided stables in Florida and New York and charged 27 men and women on an assortment of crimes related to illegally doping Thoroughbred and Standardbred racehorses.
Also charged with money laundering conspiracy were Jose “Pepe” Morely Chocron; Isaac Schachtel, a licensed Thoroughbred owner from Venezuela living in Miami; Juan Carlos Balaguera-Villamizar; and Juan Marcos Matos Ruiz.
Evidence in the case is built around two confidential sources and two undercover agents who discussed with the defendants ways of laundering money purportedly coming from corrupt politicians in Brazil. The bribes were said to be in exchange for preferential treatment on business opportunities. The cash and electronic funds would be transferred in and through New York City and Miami, according to the indictment.
The investigation began after a confidential source informed law enforcement that Chocron and others allegedly were engaged in laundering money believed to come from illegal narcotics sales and gambling operations run by Chocron.
During the course of the investigation, an undercover agent was introduced to Schachtel, who allegedly said he was a partner of Chocron in laundering illicit proceeds. During a series of meetings with the undercover agent from Nov. 15, 2019, through Jan. 15, 2020, Schachtel allegedly described the possibility of laundering money through certain Thoroughbred trainers based in the Miami area. “Illicit funds could be provided to a racehorse trainer,” the indictment states, “deposited into that trainer's 'horseman's account' (i.e., a bank account through which the trainer makes and receives payments relating to the purchase and sale of racehorses), and laundered either through the rapid resale of a racehorse or through consistent winning on the basis of a particular racehorse's success.”
Schachtel allegedly then described “the ability of a particular racehorse trainer, Alfred Lichoa … to virtually guarantee the safety of the (undercover agent's) money through Lichoa's systematic administration of illicit performance enhancing drugs to the racehorses under his control.”
The indictment states that the two undercover agents met with Schachtel and Lichoa on Feb. 11, 2020, to discuss the money laundering plan. The agents provided the two defendants with $50,000 in cash. In a subsequent meeting at a training center in Florida, the undercover agents said they were told the $50,000 was deposited into an account control by Schachtel and would later be transferred to Lichoa's horseman's account at a Florida track. The undercover agents allegedly told Schachtel and Lichoa the money came from a Brazilian mayor who received a bribe.
Lichoa has been in the U.S. nearly 20 years, mostly in Ocala, working first as farm veterinarian for the late John Franks at Franks Farm, then was stallion manager at Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds. More recently he was general manager for the Northwest Farms owned by the Iadisernia family.
Schachtel, believed to be a high-stakes tournament poker player, owned horses for a few years in his own name and more recently as Destreza Stables, which utilizes fellow Venezuelan Antonio Sano as trainer.
Lichoa is credited by Equibase with 24 wins in 410 career starts, mostly at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. In 2020, he has just one win from 51 starts.
Horses that have raced in 2020 with Lichoa listed in the program as trainer for a wide variety of owners have recorded workouts at seven different training centers throughout Florida: Palm Meadows, Ocala Training Center, Hunter Farm Training Center, New Haven Farm, Classic Mile, Team Work Racing and Starting Gate Training Center.
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