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

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Good morning, I’m Geoff Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Over the past two years, the public has watched with growing concern the reports of death and injury in the business of professional horse racing. The care and respect due to the animals competing, as well as the integrity of racing, are matters of deep concern to the people in our District, and to this Office. Today, we announce criminal charges against race horse trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, as well as 9 other trainers, 7 veterinarians, and 9 drug suppliers and distributors, all involved in the cruel and systematic doping of racehorses across the United States, and indeed, around the world using misbranded, adulterated, and dangerous performance enhancing drugs. This is the most far reaching prosecution of racehorse doping in the history of the Department of Justice. The defendants who we charge today engaged in this conduct not for the love of the sport – and certainly not out of care for the horses – but for money; to secure cash prizes by increasing a race horse’s chances of winning races, or to make money by manufacturing and selling illegal drugs. And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendants’ unbridled greed. These animals were injected and force-fed all manner of illegal and experimental drugs, drugs that allowed the horses to run unnaturally fast, and to mask pain and which, as alleged, can lead to their injury and death. The horse racing industry is subject to Federal laws aimed at protecting animals; laws that require that trainers – who have the responsibility of caring for the horses under their control – only administer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or pursuant to a legitimate prescription, that animal drugs be manufactured in an FDA registered facility, that veterinarians – who take an oath to protect the health and welfare of animals – abide by their duty to prescribe drugs based on medical need, and that drugs be truthfully and thoroughly labeled to show where they are made, and their contents. The defendants, as alleged, violated these laws by doping race horses with illegal and dangerous performance enhancing drugs. This far chart…as you can see, illustrates some of the drugs that we obtained in the course of our investigation. The first category is blood builders: adulterated and misbranded drugs that increase a horse’s red blood cells, providing more oxygen to muscles, and allowing a horse to run faster or longer than would be natural. The drugs also increase pressure on a racehorse’s heart, which can lead to injury or death. These customized drugs were designed to be undetectable to the normal blood testing protocols. The next group is pain blockers: analgesics to deaden a horse’s ability to feel pain. These drugs can cause a racehorse to overexert itself, possibly leading to a leg injury or break. Often, racehorses that sustain such injuries are euthanized. Defendant Louis Grasso included among his pain blockers, vials of cobra venom, which he shipped to trainers upon request. The next group is broncho- dilators: adulterated and misbranded drugs designed to increase a horse’s oxygen intake and lessen fatigue, allowing a horse to perform beyond its natural abilities. The final group is bleeders: used to reduce bleeding in a horse’s lungs during a race or exercise, masking over exertion. As alleged, the defendants not only knew these drugs were illegal, several acknowledged that they could be lethal. They wanted to set the phone call between Lois Grasso; a veterinarian, and Thomas Guido; a trainer. Guido told Grasso about a horse who had died that was being doped with a drug similar to a drug builder. Grasso was not surprised. He replied, “It happens. He probably over juiced him. I’ve seen that happen 20 times.” The scope of the doping problem is underlined by the allegation regarding two well-known horses: Maximum Security and XY Jet. Maximum Security, in 2019, finished first in the Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference. And just last week, Maximum Security won a major race in the Middle East. His trainer (Jason Servis), as alleged, gave SGF-1000 to almost every horse he trained, including Maximum Security. SGF-1000 is manufactured in unregistered facilities, and is promoted as containing growth factors intended to increase a horse’s stamina beyond its natural abilities, thereby increasing the risk of injury. Following his disqualification from the Derby, Servis was recorded discussing giving SGF-1000 to Maximum Security in advance of a race in New Jersey. Defendant Navarro also trained and doped horses running at the highest level, including XY Jet, who in 2019, won a major race in the Middle East. XY Jet was regularly doped with misbranded and adulterated blood builders and other performance-enhancing drugs, in a callous effort to increase that horse’s performance. XY Jet …XY Jet died on January 8, 2020, at the age of eight. Navarro stated that the death was due to an apparent heart attack. Our Office’s investigation of the death of XY Jet continues. Navarro is also alleged to have worked with another defendant to quietly dispose of the bodies of dead horses, rather than report those deaths to the relevant authorities. In one intercepted phone call, Nicholas Surick; a trainer, and a co-conspirator with Navarro said, “You know how many horses I’ve seen (Navarro) killed and broke down that I made disappear? You know how much trouble he could get in if they found out the 6 horses we killed?” The 6 horses we killed. Today’s allegations against 27 individuals in the horse racing industry, shines a light on the severity of their crimes, and the impact of those crimes on the horses. And it will continue to be a priority for our Office to investigate and prosecute those who seek to profit from the inhumane treatment of animals. I want to acknowledge and thank the career prosecutors of our Office for their role in the investigation and prosecution of this case. To my right, Sarah Mortazavi, Benet Kearney, and their supervisors in the Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprise Unit, Andrew Adams and Alex Wilson. Now we could not bring these cases alone. In this case and in so many of our important cases, we have as our partner the Federal Bureau of Investigation, represented here today to my left by Bill Sweeny, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI, by Jackie McGuire, the Chief of the Criminal Division, and by Bill Gayle, who is the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Organized Crime. Now today, our parters at the FBI physically stand beside us, but it’s important for me to emphasize that the FBI stands behinds us 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and it’s impossible for us to express how grateful we are that they are there, and that Bill and his entire team – we want to thank for their professionalism, and for their dedication, and for their excellence, and for their intelligence. The FBI initiated this investigation about 2 years ago, and has pursued it relentlessly, as they pursue everything. Now to Bill’s left is Jefferey Ebersole, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Office of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations. Thank you Jeffrey for the FDA’s great work in this case. To Jeffrey’s left is Major Gregory Thomas, Detail Commander of the New York State Police Special Investigations Unit. Thank you Major for all the help we received from the New York State Police. To Major Thomas’ left is Inspector Matthew Highland from the NYPD, which was of enormous assistance in this investigation. I also wanna thank the Drug Enforcement Administration and Customs and Border Protection for their expertise and support, as well as the state of New Jersey, and in particular, New Jersey Attorney General Greywal, and the New Jersey State Police. I’d like to invite now up to the podium, Bill Sweeny. (Sweeny) Thanks Geoff, and thanks for the kind words. Good morning everybody. Today’s charges outline a broad scheme on behalf of race horse trainers, veterinarians, distributors, and others (allegedly), to manufacture, distribute, or administer thousands of units of PEDs to racehorses throughout the country, and around the world. The PEDs allegedly administered to horses under the care of those listed in the indictment included blood builders, pain shots, bronchodilators, and red acid. Not only were the substances medically unnecessary, they were adulterated and misbranded. They were manufactured in facilities not registered with the FDA, meaning, Federal statutes and Federal regulations governing the administration of such substances were largely ignored. As we allege, PEDs were given to racehorses in an effort to increase their performance beyond their natural abilities. These substances stimulated endurance, dead nerves, increased oxygen intake, and reduced inflammation. What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse. 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 in their purses, as they manipulated 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 arrests should put anyone who chooses to follow in the footsteps of those charged today in this doping scheme on alert. I’d like to thank our partners (as always) in this investigation. Geoff, your team – they’ve been exceptional. To the New York State Police, the FDA, the DEA, and the NYPD in particular, who staff’s Organized Crime Task Force, uh, with a large number – a large number of detectives; uh, we’re eternally grateful for your guys’ partnership, so thank you. (Berman) We’ll take your questions. (Aside) How many deaths do you attribute to this scheme? (Berman) Well, as you can see in the far chart alone, uh, uh, defendant Guido talked about the death of a horse that was being doped with a type of blood builder. And then, uh, defendant Grasso (the veterinarian) said that there were 20 horses that he was aware of who were over juiced in a similar way. (Aside) What sparked this investigation 2 years ago? (Berman) I’ll let the FBI answer. (Sweeny) Uh, it actually started as a different – uh, different case on a different topic altogether. Uh, and one thing led to another, and this information came forward, and the team of detectives and agents, uh, worked it from there. Uh, we had one agent in particular who was actually an expert in this industry, uh, from a prior life. Uh, he was part of the team, and they did great work. (Aside) How much money was raised from this scheme? I saw in the indictment, like, 100 dollars per square foot at least from Grasso, but total? (Berman) The indictment doesn’t contain in a total number, and I’m not permitted to go beyond the 4 corners of the indictment. (Aside) Were these drugs manufactured, uh, in the U.S. or overseas? Where were – (Berman) Some drugs were manufactured – most of the drugs were manufactured – created in the U.S., uh, in unregistered facilities, and some drugs were, uh, smuggled into the country. And there is a charge in this indictment – in one of these indictments concerning smuggling. Yes. (Aside) Yes. How has the industry not changed (unintelligible)? (Berman) Well… you know, it, uh – this case (as we’ve said) is far reaching. It has 27 defendants. Our investigation is continuing. And that’s all really I can say about that. (Aside) Do you have a – in the Organized Crime, uh, Task Force here, or part of that unit here – was there any indication that these trainers had tipped off anybody – particularly given the popularity of sports betting and race betting – that certain horses had been drugged or doped, and that, uh, in fact, people made additional money off of this information? (Sweeny) Off the top of my head, I don’t think so. Um, if I knew the answer, I probably wouldn’t tell you, but it started with the Task Force because of other things the Task Force was looking at initially, and that led to this. (Berman) Yes. (Aside) Will you take an off topic question? (Berman) Uh, sure. (Aside) In a lot – um, on this case in, in the press of whether your Office has been unduly influenced or subject to (unintelligible) influence by outside forces, particularly in Washington? Has there been? And if so, how are you (inaudible)? (Berman) The Southern District of New York has a long history of integrity and pursuing cases, and declining to pursue cases based only on the facts, and the law and the equities, without regard to partisan political concerns. My primary commitment is and has been to maintain those core values. And thats how our Offices operate. (Aside) It’s really off topic, but you’ve done a couple of press screen things regarding Jeffrey Epstein. Uh, and the last time you spoke about it, there was no cooperation from Prince Andrew, and there’s been other things that have been reported about that case. Is there anything you can update us on it today? (Berman) (sigh) Well, uh, contrary to Prince Andrew’s very public offer to cooperate with our investigation into Epstein’s co-conspirators – an offer that was conveyed via press release – Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation, and our Office is considering its options. Any other questions? Thank you. (Aside) Thank you.

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