Trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis are among 27 people indicted on federal charges in connection with the use of performance-enhancing drugs on racehorses, according to indictments released Monday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Alongside Navarro and Servis, several assistant trainers, veterinarians, pharmacists and drug distributors are also named on a variety of charges related to drugs that were mislabeled or misbranded. According to evidence taken by federal investigators, those products were (or were marketed as) blocking agents, masking agents, EPO agents, and products similar to clenbuterol and Viagra.
“What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge for the New York office of the FBI at a press conference Monday. “They experienced cardiac issues, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury, and in some cases death. Conversely, the human beings involved in the scheme continued to line their purses as they continued to manipulate this multi-billion-dollar horse racing industry across the globe. People are rightfully disturbed by the mistreatment of animals who have absolutely no means of defense. Today's arrest should put anyone who chooses to follow in the footsteps of those charged today in this doping scheme on alert.”
Sweeney revealed the investigation was not initially focused on the people indicted Monday.
“It actually started as a different case on a different topic altogether,” he said. “One thing led to another, and this information came forward, and the team of agents and detectives worked it from there. One agent in particular was actually an expert in this industry from a prior life. He was part of the team, and they did great work.”
Indictments described complex systems set up by each trainer to get performance-enhancing drugs into their barn while evading detection of state and federal agents.
According to federal prosecutors, Navarro relied upon his assistant trainers, veterinarians, and other trainers to help him acquire and administer performance enhancers. He is charged with drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy alongside Dr. Erica Garcia, trainer Marcos Zulueta, Dr. Greg Skelton, trainer Michael Tannuzzo, Ross Cohen, Dr. Seth Fishman, harness trainer Christopher Oakes and harness trainer Nicholas Surick. The indictment maintains the group was involved in “a corrupt scheme to manufacture, create, purchase, distribute, transport, sell and administer a wide variety of misbranded and adulterated PEDs.”
Navarro allegedly administered PEDs himself, and also directed veterinarians to do so. The indictment claims Navarro spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on PEDs sourced by Fishman from “at least” January 2017 to April 2019. Fishman procured a blood builder for Navarro, while Skelton is accused of selling an analgesic and joint block. Surick is accused of supplying Navarro with “red acid,” a customized agent to reduce inflammation in joints. Oakes allegedly procured a performance-enhancing “drench” to “rapidly increase a racehorse's performance.” The drench was supposed to be undetectable in drug tests.
The drug program described in the indictment carried risk to Navarro's horses. In an intercepted phone call between Surick and Tannuzzo, Surick stated: “You know how many [censored] horses he [Navarro] [censored] killed and broke down that I made disappear … You know how much trouble he could get in … if they found out … the six horses we killed?”
X Y Jet, who died in January, was one of the horses specifically named in Navarro's doping program. The multiple graded stakes winner was supposedly doped ahead of an allowance optional claimer race at Gulfstream Feb. 13, 2019 and ahead of his win in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen March 30, 2019 with a pain blocker.
Following the horse's untimely death, Navarro released an emotional statement calling the horse “part of my family.”
It seems at least one owner was aware of Navarro's drug program. The indictment makes reference to a call with unidentified operators of a racing stable based in California about Navarro trainee Nanoosh. The owner asked if Navarro was “giving them all the [censored]” and asking “Is this horse jacked out? Is he on [censored] pills or what…” to which Navarro responded “Everything … he gets everything.”
Nanoosh is listed in Equibase as being co-owned by Rockingham Ranch, Zayat Stables and David Bernsen. Zayat Stables is based in New Jersey.
Servis stands accused of drug adulteration and misbranding by using a network of veterinarians, assistant trainers, and other trainers (including Navarro) to acquire and use PEDs on his horses, including multiple graded stakes winner Maximum Security. In particular, Servis allegedly had “almost” all his horses on a substance called SGF-1000 which purportedly contains “growth factors” including fibroblast growth factor and hepatocyte growth factor to improve tissue repair and increase stamina.
SGF-1000 is a compounded product. Servis was told there is no test for SGF-1000.
On a March 2019 phone call with Navarro, Servis said “I've been using it on everything almost” and Navarro stated he had “more than 12 horses” on SGF-1000 before saying “I don't want to talk about this [censored] on the phone.”
On June 5, 2019 New Jersey regulators tested Maximum Security ahead of his start in the Pegasus Stakes, where he placed second. Servis contacted Rhein, who reassured him authorities would not find SGF-1000 and that the drug sometimes appeared as a false positive for “dex.” Servis allegedly then asked veterinarian Dr. Kristian Rhein to alter the horse's records, making it appear as though Maximum Security was given dex.
Veterinarian Dr. Kristian Rhein, drug distributor Michael Kegley, Jr., Dr. Alexander Chan, assistant trainer Henry Argueta and Navarro are named together on a charge of drug adulteration and misbranding related to the use of SGF-1000. SGF-1000 is produced by an unnamed Kentucky-based drug company.
Further correspondence between Servis, Navarro, and Argueta revealed that Servis warned Navarro of the presence of federal agents in the backstretch in Feb. 2019, and Navarro explained that the agent narrowly missed catching him “pumping and fuming every [censored] horse that runs today.”
Servis also made reference to concealing PEDs bound for multiple graded stakes winner World of Trouble.
Surick is also accused of hiding a horse called Northern Virgin from the New Jersey Racing Commission when authorities showed up to do out-of-competition testing in his barn. Surick sent the horse to another farm, but FBI investigators later obtained a blood sample for the horse, which tested positive for EPO. Surick is charged with drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy, as well as obstruction.
Additional defendants charged related to drug adulteration and misbranding include Lisa Giannelli, Jordan Fishman, Rebecca Linke, Rick Dane, Jr., and Christopher Marino.
The indictment against racetrack defendants is available here.
Per a release from the U.S. Attorney's office, Navarro was charged with two counts of misbranding conspiracy, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. Servis faces one count of misbranding conspiracy with a maximum imprisonment of five years. Surick was charged with two counts of obstruction, each carrying a maximum of 20 years, along with two counts of misbranding conspiracy that each have five-year maximum penalties.
The indictments announced Monday also included a number of drug makers and drug distributors, including Scott Mangini and Scott Robinson. The Paulick Report first reported on Mangini in 2016, at which time he was the pharmacist for Ergogenic Labs in Wellington, Fla. According to the indictment, Mangini and Robson formed a partnership between 2011 and 2016 to sell misbranded and adulterated PEDs for use in racehorses. The pair created and managed HorseGold.com and HorsePreRace.com. After the pair went their separate ways, Mangini set up RacehorseMeds.com and Robinson ran RUI Labs or RUI Products. The Paulick Report also reported on several of those companies in 2016.
The two are accused of distributing EPO agents, joint blocks, red acid and at least one product labeled as Viagra.
Both are charged with drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy, each with maximum penalties of 10 years' imprisonment. Their indictment is available here.
Sarah Izhaki and Ashley Lebowitz are charged with drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy, as they are accused of being distributors of illegal substances on the racetrack for an unnamed, Mexican drug manufacturer. Their wares allegedly included EPO and a masking substance called “The Devil” designed to hide illegal drugs on post-race or out-of-competition drug tests.
“The Devil” was “something very new, you put it in the horse, you can use coke: It will come back negative,” Izhaki allegedly told an unnamed source.
The indictment against Lebowitz and Izhaki is available here. Izhaki faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for smuggling, along with five years for misbranding conspiracy, while Lebowitz could face up to five years imprisonment for her misbranding conspiracy charge.
Charges were also filed against veterinarian Dr. Louis Grasso, trainer Thomas Guido III, assistant trainer Conor Flynn, and Donato Poliseno, owner of an unnamed veterinary supply company based in Delaware for drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy.
According to the indictment, Grasso illegally wrote prescriptions upon trainers' request for a fee of $100 for whatever medications they chose, sometimes making it appear that EPO and other substances were being ordered for treatment of a nonexistent dog named Butch. Grasso also manufactured and sold PEDs, including EPO, red acid, snake venom, and bronchodilators. Poliseno is alleged to have recruited Grasso to produce PEDs for distribution through his Delaware company, including adrenal stimulants, sedatives, and other substances.
Grasso allegedly consulted with Guido after an unidentified Guido runner died suddenly. Grasso suggested Guido “probably over juiced him” and said that horse deaths as a result of excessive doping are not unusual — “I've seen that happen 20 times.”
Guido allegedly ordered 4,000 units of EPO from Grasso.
Read the indictments for Grasso, Guido, Poliseno, and Flynn here.
Additional reporting by Joe Nevills
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2020 Paulick Report.