More New York horse racing participants convicted of illegal drugs in federal investigation

The US Department of Justice announced this week that a veteran New York trainer and vet have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the largest ever drug investigation ever recorded for horse racing.

Last week, a jury convicted a woman who distributed adulterated drugs to participants in a New York horse race.

The recent convictions are the fallout from a sweeping investigation launched two years ago that got trainers, veterinarians and distributors allegedly involved in improperly lucrative schemes for drug racehorses, for decades. Of the dozens of people charged, 15 have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury. At least 13 of the defendants were linked to the New York race and many are facing prison sentences.

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“These recent convictions demonstrate the commitment of this office and our partners at the FBI to hold individuals who seek to profit from animal abuse and deception to account,” US Attorney Damian Williams said on Wednesday.

A multi-year investigation by federal authorities stationed in the Southern District of New York resulted in four cases that focused on corrupt trainers who abused racehorses through the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Luis Grasso, who pleaded guilty Wednesday, gave racehorse trainers prescriptions for medications their horses didn’t need and created and distributed “performance-enhancing drugs” intended for his clients, according to the Department of Justice.

In 1992, Grasso was convicted of selling steroids, and his license to practice equine medicine on racetracks was revoked by the state of New York. But over the years, Grasso has continued to provide medicine to standard-breed trainers and assistant coaches Richard Banca, Conor Flynn, Thomas Guido and Rene Allard, all of whom have participated in horse racing in New York.

Banka, who ran a training center in Middletown where federal authorities said they had found performance-enhancing drugs, pleaded guilty Wednesday. “As a result of his crimes, his horses reaped more than $16 million in cash,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Flynn, Guido and Allard have pleaded not guilty and are due to appear in court in June. Flynn worked at Banca.

Lisa Giannelli, who was indicted by a jury last week, distributed adulterated drugs in New York to Seth Fishman, a Florida-based veterinarian and manufacturer of performance-enhancing drugs. A jury found Fishman guilty in February of charges related to the manufacture and distribution of drugs in violation of Food and Drug Administration rules.

Fishman’s clients included about 2,000 companies and individuals — many of them coaches — across the country, including 265 in New York, according to evidence uncovered by prosecutors during Fishman’s trial and later obtained by the Times Union.

Ross Cohen, a standard-class trainer who lived in Orange County, testified that he had purchased medicine for horses from Giannelli and Fishman. He pleaded guilty to the federal charges.

It is also claimed that famous Thoroughbred trainer Jorge Navarro, who raced at Saratoga Racecourse and other tracks in the state, also purchased materials for his horses from Fishman. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit drug fraud and misuse of the trademark in December.

Federal investigators used wiretaps to monitor the communications of trainers and their suppliers and found that Navarro would send Fishman orders such as “1,000 pills as quickly as possible,” according to the indictment.

Thoroughbred trainer Jason Service has also been accused of giving his horses performance-enhancing substances, including Maximum Security, who finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified due to interference. Service is due to go on trial next year with Alexander Chan, a veterinarian who has treated Service’s horses and worked for the New York Racing Association for nearly a decade.

Another thoroughbred vet who worked with Service, Christian Ryan, said he and Service would hide the abuse of racehorses from their owners by paying their bills for services and other things. Ryan, who lived on Long Island, pleaded guilty in January.

Vet Erica Garcia and Thoroughbred trainer Michael Tanuzzo are scheduled to go on trial in September. No trial date has been set for many of the remaining defendants.

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