In the United States, we’ve come to expect the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take the lead on solving important criminal cases: terror attacks, organized crime, kidnappings, extortion and espionage. Of course, the FBI has also squandered valuable resources investigating whether or not Hillary Clinton should have used a private email server when she was Secretary of State for President Barack Obama.
For more than five years, an agent for the FBI has been camped out at Penn National racetrack near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, working with a federal prosecutor to expose wrongdoing in horse racing. Considering the effort, he doesn’t have a lot to show for it.
There have been indictments and guilty pleas. A clocker was nabbed for taking cash to falsify workouts. A racing office employee admitted to accepting money in exchange for providing information on upcoming races. Several veterinarians copped a plea on charges they gave medication to horses on race day – a violation of racing regulations – and conspired with trainers to cover it up. The federal cases against several trainers were relegated to state court, where there were guilty pleas to lesser charges.
Several of those who pleaded guilty also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation. That’s part of the deal they were offered.
One trainer isn’t playing along with the FBI.
Murray Rojas has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and wire fraud and she has some financial support in her fight against the government from a legal defense fund created by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
Like the other trainers indicted before her, Rojas is accused of having drugs administered to horses on race day – which, if true, is a violation of racing rules, since only the anti-bleeder drug furosemide may be given to horses within 24 hours of a race.
Prosecutors are saying this alleged practice amounts to wire fraud, because the horses in question won purse money that was transferred from a bank in one state to a bank in another state. The federal conspiracy charges stem from the fact Rojas and the veterinarians who treated the horses allegedly worked together to cover up the activity by back dating treatment records.
National HBPA leadership feels a conviction in this case would set a terrible precedent for horsemen, that the federal government could henceforth file wire fraud charges against any trainer who violates – whether intentionally or by accident – a medication policy. That’s why the National Thoroughbred Owners & Trainers Legal Defense Fund Foundation, Inc., was created as a non-profit organization in April 2016 and is helping pay the attorney representing Rojas.
I think the HBPA is over-reacting.
The guilty pleas of the veterinarians and treatment records they turned over to the FBI led Rojas to be charged with having her horses administered drugs illegally on race day. It makes no difference that the drugs were permitted therapeutic medications: they are not permitted within 24 hours of a race. If these charges turn out to be true, giving drugs to horses on race day not only defrauds honest horsemen who play by the rules, but it cheats the betting public. The HBPA should be condemning that type of activity, not paying lawyers to defend it.
There is another horse racing-related case the federal government is prosecuting.
This is an old case, too, when a drug test was developed to detect the powerful drug dermorphin (also known as frog juice, since it is a synthetic version of a drug derived from the Amazon tree frog) and a number of trainers in several states received multi-year suspensions after their horses tested positive.
Some of the banished trainers said veterinarian Kyle Hebert and his associates gave the drug to their horses without their knowledge and were told it was an herb that would decrease bleeding and help the horses focus.
It took more than five years for the federal government to build its case, but in February a grand jury indicted Hebert and a Nebraska compounding pharmacy (Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare, doing business as Essential Pharmacy Compounding) for conspiracy to distribute and use adulterated and misbranded drugs.
The FBI moves slowly but methodically. There may be more chapters ahead as this case unfolds.
“For more than five years, an agent for the FBI has been camped out at Penn National racetrack near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, working with a federal prosecutor to expose wrongdoing in horse racing.”