Four Veterinarians Hit With Criminal Charges Over Pre-Race Drug Administrations

by | 03.27.2015 | 12:33pm

The United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that criminal charges were filed late yesterday in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg against four veterinarians involved in treating Thoroughbred race horses at Penn National Race Track, in Grantville, Penn.

According to U.S. Attorney Peter Smith, Dr. Kevin Brophy, age 60, Florida, Dr. Fernando Motta, age 44, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Dr. Christopher Korte, age 43, Pueblo, Colorado, and Dr. Renee Nodine, age 52, Annville, are each charged in separate Criminal Informations.

Each defendant is charged with allegedly administering drugs to thoroughbred race horses within 24 hours of when the horse was entered to race. This conduct was in violation of the state criminal law prohibiting the rigging of publicly exhibited contests; the administering of the drugs was not pursuant to a valid prescription and constituted misbranding of the prescription animal drugs in violation of federal law. The alleged activity took place at various times beginning as early as 1986 and continuing up to August 2014.

(Editor's Note: The Paulick Report has learned the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission may suspend or revoke the racing licenses of each veterinarian named in the indictments.)

The Informations also allege that the defendants conspired with horse trainers, whose identities are “known to the United States”, to administer the drugs in violation of the laws, rules and regulations governing the conduct of Thoroughbred racing.

The government also filed plea agreements with each of the four veterinarians in which they agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the United States in the continuing investigation. The plea agreements are subject to the approval of the court.

According to the charges, trainers allegedly placed orders for drugs and the defendants, after administering the drugs, backdated the billing records to avoid detection. The defendants allegedly submitted false veterinarian treatment reports to the State Horse Racing Commission, omitting from those reports any reference to the drugs administered to horses at the track on race day. The filing of these reports and the backdating of billing records were, allegedly, to further the conspiracy by concealing the illegal activity. These acts had the potential to defraud other owners and trainers whose horses were entered in the same race and defrauded the betting public as well.

The matter is being investigated by the Harrisburg Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission, U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Pennsylvania State Police. Assistant United States Attorney William A. Behe is prosecuting the cases for the United States.

Indictments and Criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court.

A sentence following a finding of guilty is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

The maximum penalty in these cases under the federal statute is 2 years imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a $200,000 fine. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Judge is also required to consider and weigh a number of factors, including the nature, circumstances and seriousness of the offense; the history and characteristics of the defendant; and the need to punish the defendant, protect the public and provide for the defendant's educational, vocational and medical needs. For these reasons, the statutory maximum penalty for the offense is not an accurate indicator of the potential sentence for a specific defendant.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners president G. Kent Carter, DVM, issued the following statement regarding the charges: 

“We are disappointed to learn of the allegations against four AAEP members involved in treating Thoroughbred racehorses at Penn National Race Track. We are not privy to the details of the allegations beyond what has been reported in the press.

“Ethical practice is a necessary requirement in all aspects of veterinary medicine. All veterinarians are expected to follow the American Veterinary Medical Association Code of Ethics, the ethics code of their state veterinary medical association, and all rules and regulations of horse racing that apply at the racetracks where practicing.

“The health and welfare of the horse can only be protected when veterinarians abide by the ethical code that we are bound to as part of veterinary medicine. It is paramount that AAEP members and all veterinarians practicing at the racetrack adhere to the highest ethical standards in order to protect the racehorse and the integrity of the sport.”

The Association of Racing Commissioners International released the following statement: 

“Today's indictments are indicative of how racing commissions are teaming up with law enforcement and other government agencies to enforce laws designed to protect horses and the integrity of racing,”said RCI President Ed Martin.

Racing commissions are quietly working to involve other regulatory and law enforcement entities to pool resources and take advantage of the collective jurisdictional reach of various entities to ensure that all regulations and laws are followed and enforced.

Martin said that similar efforts are underway in other jurisdictions and he praised the cooperative work of Pennsylvania racing regulators, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the Pennsylvania State Police for their work in building the case for the indictments announced today.

RCI will meet in Tampa, Florida on April 21-23, 2015, and of special interest to be discussed are State Veterinary Board requirements that prescription medications be dispensed only upon a valid diagnosis for a specific patient. The American Association of State Veterinary Boards will be participating in the RCI discussions.

Today's indictments claim that the defendants allegedly submitted false veterinarian treatment reports to the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission. The indictments also claim that drugs were not administered pursuant to a valid prescription and constituted misbranding of the prescription animal drugs in violation of federal law.

In 2012, five state racing commissions formally requested the assistance of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in multi-jurisdictional racing commission investigations. Martin said the FDA has been an invaluable resource and partner since then, as have other agencies that are now working with various state racing commissions.

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