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Harness Trainer Christopher Oakes Sentenced to 3 Years in Federal Doping Case

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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Oakes’s Sentence Caps a Month of Convictions and Sentences in Ongoing Doping Investigations

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that defendant CHRISTOPHER OAKES received a sentence of thirty-six months in prison today for his role in the felony drug misbranding and adulteration charges arising from this Office’s investigation of the abuse of animals through the use of performance enhancing drugs and as charged in United States v. Navarro et al., 20 Cr. 160 (MKV).  OAKES’s sentence followed the February 24, 2022, sentencing of thoroughbred trainer MARCOS ZULUETA to a term of thirty-three months in prison, and the guilty plea of harness trainer RICK DANE, JR., on February 18, 2022. OAKES and ZULUETA were each sentenced by U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, who will preside over the sentencing of DANE on June 21, 2022. 

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “These three defendants, Christopher Oakes, Marcos Zulueta, and Rick Dane, Jr., each undertook a duty to care for and protect the health and safety of the animals under their control. Each man flagrantly violated that duty in pursuit of purse money. Oakes’s sentence today, like Zulueta’s sentence, reflects the callousness of their crimes, and the gravity with which this Office takes the kind of abuse that each practiced.”

According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Informations, prior charging instruments and other filings in this case[1], and statements during court proceedings:

The charges in the Navarro case arise from an investigation of widespread schemes by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, PED distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses competing at all levels of professional horseracing. By evading PED prohibitions and deceiving regulators and horse racing officials, participants in these schemes sought to improve race performance and obtain prize money from racetracks throughout the United States and other countries, including in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”), all to the detriment and risk of the health and well-being of the racehorses.  Trainers, like OAKES, ZULUETA, and DANE, who participated in the schemes stood to profit from the success of racehorses under their control by earning a share of their horses’ winnings, and by improving their horses’ racing records, thereby yielding higher trainer fees and increasing the number of racehorses under their control. Veterinarians involved in the scheme profited from the sale and administration of these medically unnecessary, misbranded, and adulterated substances.

OAKES, ZULUETA, and DANE each operated their respective doping operations using customized, misbranded drugs that were intended to be untestable by racing officials. Through his fraud – and using a sham corporation, “Northfork,” to hide his actual financial interest in various horses – OAKES defrauded others of over a million dollars in purse winnings by training and racing horses that he had “doped” using a plethora of adulterated and misbranded performance-enhancing drugs (“PEDs”), including (among others) blood builders, vasodilators, “drenches,” “bleeder” pills, and other drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”). OAKES was also willing to engage in surreptitious delivery of drugs to notorious doper and co-defendant Jorge Navarro, who was previously sentenced to five years in prison in this matter.

ZULUETA, like OAKES, supported Navarro’s racehorse doping and likewise administered illegal drugs to his racehorses under his care and control. Navarro and ZULUETA routinely discussed their use of a particular “blood builder” PED they referred to as “Monkey.” On one recorded call between ZULUETA and Navarro, Navarro stated: “the Monkey—the Monkey hits the horses hard,” later confirming, “the Monkey and the orange one . . . As far as I’m concern[ed], the Monkey and the orange one has something similar which is hitting the horses a lot.” On another recorded call, Navarro informed ZULUETA that “‘the Monkey is breaking down the horses . . . It’s breaking down . . . it’s breaking down the horses. It’s making their blood very thick.’” Still, rather than dissuade Navarro from using the product, ZULUETA agreed with Navarro that he could simply lower the dosage he was administering to his horses, while risking the horses “breaking down.” Following that conversation, ZULUETA, too, continued to procure that blood builder for use on his own horses.    

DANE was a New York-based trainer of standardbred horses who regularly obtained misbranded and adulterated PEDs from co-defendant Seth Fishman, and assisted in the distribution of Fishman’s products, including by “vouching” for potential clients of Fishman. Though Fishman was nominally a veterinarian, Fishman did not practice veterinary medicine, but rather used his license as a means of shielding clients, like DANE, from regulatory scrutiny – every drug that Fishman sold to DANE and others, including drugs obtained from various compounding pharmacies, were illegally misbranded, as DANE well knew. A jury convicted Fishman of two counts of misbranding conspiracy on February 2, 2022.

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In addition to the prison sentence, OAKES, 59 of Bear Creek Township, PA and ZULUETA, 54 of Bensalem, PA, were each ordered to pay a forfeiture penalty of $62,821 and $47,525, respectively.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI New York Office’s Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force and its support of the Bureau’s Integrity in Sports and Gaming Initiative. Mr. Williams also expressed the Office’s appreciation for the Food and Drug Administration, the investigative support and substantive expertise of which was integral to the success of this case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Sarah Mortazavi, Andrew C. Adams, Anden Chow, and Benet Kearney are in charge of the prosecution.

[1] As to Oakes’s, Zulueta’s, and Dane’s co-defendants, the entirety of the texts of the Indictments, Informations, and the descriptions of the Indictments and Informations set forth herein constitute only allegations and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.


USAO - New York, Southern
Nicholas Biase (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 

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