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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges 27 Defendants in Racehorse Doping Rings

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 9, 2020

Four Indictments Allege Systematic, International Scheme Among Trainers, Vets, and Others to Cheat Using Misbranded and Adulterated Drugs

Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), Catherine A. Hermsen, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Investigations (“FDA-OCI”), and Troy Miller, Director of Field Operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in New York (“CBP”), announced the unsealing of four indictments charging 27 individuals with offenses relating to the systematic and covert administration of illegal performance-enhancing drugs (“PEDs”) to racehorses competing across the United States and abroad. The Indictments unsealed today each allege the shipment and administration of adulterated and misbranded drugs designed to secretly and dangerously enhance the racing performance of horses beyond their natural ability, a dishonest practice that places the lives of affected animals at risk.

Of the 27 defendants, 19 – including trainers JORGE NAVARRO and JASON SERVIS – are charged in an indictment detailing four conspiracies to manufacture, distribute, and administer adulterated or misbranded drugs as set forth in United States v. Jorge Navarro, et al., 20 Cr. 160 (the “Navarro Indictment”), which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.  Of those defendants, 13 were taken into federal custody and are expected to be presented in the Southern District of New York today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.  Defendant SETH FISHMAN was previously charged by complaint in United States v. Seth Fishman, 19 Mag. 10120, and arrested on October 28, 2019, in Miami, Florida, and was presented in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The remaining defendants were arrested today outside of the Southern District of New York and adjacent districts, and will be presented today before the appropriate District Courts.

Four additional defendants are charged in United States v. Louis Grasso, et al., 20 Cr. 163 (the “Grasso Indictment”), which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.  Two defendants are charged in United States v. Scott Robinson and Scott Mangini, 20 Cr. 162 (the “Robinson Indictment”), assigned to U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken; and two defendants are charged in United States v. Sarah Izhaki and Ashley Lebowitz, 20 Cr. 161 (the “Izhaki Indictment”), assigned to U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Today’s unsealing of four indictments for widespread doping of racehorses is the largest ever of its kind from the Department of Justice.  These defendants engaged in this conduct not for the love of the sport, and certainly not out of concern for the horses, but for money.  And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendants’ greed.  The care and respect due to the animals competing, as well as the integrity of racing, are matters of deep concern to the people of this District and to this Office.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “These men allegedly saw the $100 billion dollar global horse racing industry as their way to get rich at the expense of the animals that were doing all the hard work.  Our investigation reveals the cruelty and inhumane treatment these horses suffered all to win a race.  The FBI New York Joint Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force worked along with our law enforcement partners at the New York State Police, FDA, and DEA to stop this ring of criminals from abusing helpless animals simply so they could cheat the odds and rake in millions of dollars.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said: “I want to commend our NYPD investigators, working with our federal partners, for carrying out a meticulous and important investigation. Putting the lives of horses at the center of an alleged plot to cheat professional horseracing around the world can never be accepted.”

FDA Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Investigations Catherine A. Hermsen said: “The FDA is responsible for protecting not only the health of humans, but also of animals.  The manufacturing and trafficking of misbranded and unapproved animal drugs, and the administering of such drugs to racehorses to enhance their performance at the track, seriously endangers the health of these animals in pursuit of financial gain.  Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder of our continued focus on those individuals and companies that put profits ahead of the public health.”

CBP Director of Field Operations Troy Miller said: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is proud to have collaborated with our fellow law enforcement partners during this investigation. We value our partnerships and the arrests today demonstrate that together, no matter how complex the case, we will do what it takes to bring those who violate the law to justice.”

According to the allegations contained in the Indictments,[1] other filings in this case, and statements during court proceedings:

The charges in these four Indictments 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 Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) rules and regulations, as well as prohibitions against the use of PEDs, and by 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”), notwithstanding the detriment and risk of the health and well-being of the racehorses.   Trainers 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 and drug distributors simply profited from the callous sale and administration of these medically unnecessary substances.

The Navarro Indictment

The Navarro Indictment charges 19 individuals representing a cross-section of corruption throughout the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industries.  As alleged, JORGE NAVARRO, a racehorse trainer, has participated in the doping of horses under his control using a variety of PEDs, including customized PEDs designed in part to evade normal anti-doping tests administered by racing regulators.  NAVARRO operated his doping scheme covertly, using a straw man to receive certain products designed to mask the presence of PEDs, avoiding explicit discussion of PEDs during certain telephone calls, and working with others to coordinate the administration of PEDs at times that racing officials would not detect such cheating.

NAVARRO trained and doped XY Jet, a thoroughbred horse that won the 2019 Golden Shaheen race in Dubai.  As alleged, NAVARRO was intercepted during telephone conversations discussing his doping practices, and administered PEDs to XY Jet.  Among NAVARRO’s preferred PEDs were various “blood building” drugs, which, when administered before intense physical exertion, can lead to cardiac issues or death.  NAVARRO announced XY Jet’s death, as the result of an apparent heart attack, in January of this year.  Investigation of the circumstances of that death remains ongoing.

NAVARRO was assisted by many of the charged defendants in the Navarro Indictment, and also assisted others, including JASON SERVIS, in obtaining adulterated and misbranded drugs to dope racehorses.

As alleged, SERVIS doped virtually all horses under his control, including Maximum Security, the horse that crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference.  Among the misbranded and adulterated PEDs used by SERVIS was the drug “SGF-1000,” marketed and sold by defendant MICHAEL KEGLEY JR., among others, and which is compounded and manufactured in unregistered facilities.  SGF-1000, like many other customized PEDs, may cause racehorses to perform beyond their natural abilities, thereby increasing the risk of injuries.  SERVIS and others working with him, including veterinarians KRISTIAN RHEIN and ALEXANDER CHAN, attempted to conceal SERVIS’s doping practices through the use of falsified veterinary bills and fake prescriptions. SERVIS also tipped off NAVARRO to the presence of racing officials searching for signs of illegal doping. NAVARRO expressed his relief regarding SERVIS’ “tip”:  “[The track official] would’ve caught our asses fucking pumping and pumping and fuming every fucking horse [that] runs today.”

The Navarro Indictment also includes charges against veterinarian SETH FISHMAN who also created and shipped adulterated and misbranded drugs. As alleged, SETH FISHMAN, along with LISA GIANNELLI, JORDAN FISHMAN, and others, developed and distributed multiple illegal PEDs.  Those included “blood building” drugs specifically designed to evade anti-doping testing regimes.  On one occasion, SETH FISHMAN touted precisely this deceptive aspect of his illegal PEDs:  “[D]on’t kid yourself: if you’re giving something to a horse to make it better, and you’re not supposed to do that. . . .  That’s doping.  You know, whether or not it’s testable, that’s a different story.”

Finally, the Navarro Indictment includes charges against trainer NICHOLAS SURICK who, among other things, distributed the adulterated and misbranded PED “red acid” (an anti-inflammatory drug) to NAVARRO.  SURICK also obtained and administered other adulterated and misbranded PEDs to horses under his care, including administering the blood building drug Epogen to the racehorse Northern Virgin.  SURICK and others then took extraordinary steps to physically conceal Northern Virgin from New Jersey state regulators seeking to test horses under SURICK’s control, for which SURICK is also charged with obstruction. 

The Grasso Indictment

The Grasso Indictment charges four defendants, including veterinarian LOUIS GRASSO, with conspiring to violate the misbranding laws of the United States.  As alleged, GRASSO manufactured, sold, and distributed adulterated and misbranded PEDs for use on racehorses.  GRASSO also obtained and distributed other PEDs, including snake venom, a type of pain blocking substance.  GRASSO worked with DONATO POLISENO, a Delaware-based distributor of PEDs manufactured by GRASSO and others.  The Grasso Indictment also charges two horse trainers, THOMAS GUIDO III and CONOR FLYNN, with, among other things, causing the shipment of adulterated and misbranded PEDs prior to administering those drugs to horses under their control.  The dangers of that practice are reflected in the death of a horse doped by GUIDO in or about October 2019, about which GRASSO commented: “I’ve seen that happen 20 times.”

The Robinson Indictment

SCOTT ROBINSON and SCOTT MANGINI are each charged with misbranding and adulteration conspiracies in the Robinson Indictment.  As alleged, the two defendants previously collaborated in running online marketplaces selling adulterated and misbranded PEDs for racehorses.  The drugs distributed through the defendants’ websites were manufactured in non-FDA registered facilities and carried significant risks to the animals affected through the administration of those illicit PEDs.  In one instance, on January 2, 2016, ROBINSON forwarded a customer complaint to MANGINI: “I [i.e., a customer contacting ROBINSON] ordered some [PED-1] . . . starting bout 8 hours after I give the injection and for about 36 hours afterwards both my horses act like they are heavily sedated, can barely walk.  Could I have a bad bottle of medicine, I’m afraid to give it anymore since this has happened three times.”  Commenting on this complaint, ROBINSON wrote, “here is another one.”

The Izhaki Indictment

The fourth Indictment unsealed today, the Izhaki Indictment, charges SARAH IZKAHI and ASHLEY LEBOWITZ in connection with their distribution of an adulterated and misbranded blood builder sourced illegally from a Mexico-based pharmaceutical company.  As alleged, IZHAKI has obtained this substance by smuggling the drug into the United States, where IZHAKI and LEBOWITZ distribute the drug to horse trainers in and around the New York City area.

*                *                *

A chart containing the names, charges, and maximum penalties for the defendants in each of the four Indictments is set forth below.  The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge assigned to each case.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the FBI’s Integrity in Sports and Gaming Initiative.  Mr. Berman also thanked the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the New York State Police, and the New York City Police Department for their support of this investigation, and Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Administration for their assistance and expertise.

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

The charges contained in these Indictments are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Indictments are posted on our website under the heading "Indictments in Horse Doping Case."

Navarro Indictment

Count Charge Defendants Max. Penalty

Count One

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

JORGE NAVARRO
ERICA GARCIA
MARCOS ZULUETA
MICHAEL TANNUZZO
GREGORY SKELTON
ROSS COHEN
SETH FISHMAN
CHRISTOPHER OAKES
NICHOLAS SURICK

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count Two

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

SETH FISHMAN
LISA GIANNELLI
JORDAN FISHMAN
RICK DANE JR.

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count Three

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

JASON SERVIS
KRISTIAN RHEIN
MICHAEL KEGLEY JR.
ALEXANDER CHAN
HENRY ARGUETA
JORGE NAVARRO

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count Four

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

NICHOLAS SURICK
REBECCA LINKE
CHRISTOPHER MARINO

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count Five

Obstruction
18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(b)(3) & 2

NICHOLAS SURICK

20 years’ imprisonment.

Count Six

Obstruction
18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c) & 2

NICHOLAS SURICK

20 years’ imprisonment.



 
Grasso Indictment

Count Charge Defendants Max. Penalty

Count One

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

LOUIS GRASSO
DONATO POLISENO
CONOR FLYNN
THOMAS GUIDO III

5 years’ imprisonment.


 
Robinson Indictment

Count Charge Defendants Max. Penalty

Count One

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

SCOTT ROBINSON
SCOTT MANGINI

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count Two

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

SCOTT ROBINSON

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count One

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

SCOTT MANGINI

5 years’ imprisonment.


 
Izhaki Indictment

Count Charge Defendants Max. Penalty

Count One

Misbranding Conspiracy
18 U.S.C. § 371

SARAH IZHAKI
ASHLEY LEBOWITZ

5 years’ imprisonment.

Count Two

Smuggling
18 U.S.C. §§ 545 & 2

SARAH IZHAKI

20 years’ imprisonment.

________________________________________
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the texts of the Indictments and the descriptions of the Indictments set forth herein constitute only allegations and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.
 
Topic(s):
Financial Fraud
Component(s):
USAO - New York, Southern
Contact:
Jim Margolin, Nicholas Biase (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number:
20-089