Track Officials Indicted For Fraud, Conspiracy, Race Tampering
Attorney General Spitzer, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett today announced the indictment of two key track officials at the New York Racing Association (NYRA) for their role in a scheme that falsely reported the weight of jockeys participating in thoroughbred horse races at state-owned tracks.
The indictment unsealed in Saratoga County Court alleges that the two officials the Clerk of Scales and Assistant Clerk of Scales allowed jockeys who were as much as 15 pounds over their assigned racing weight to participate in certain races. State racing regulations require disclosure of jockey weights because of the potential effect on race outcomes. The fact that the jockeys were overweight was not disclosed in those races.
"These two officials basically had one job to do and that was to ensure that the weight of the jockeys was recorded accurately and then disclosed to bettors," Spitzer said. "Instead, they misled the public and compromised the integrity of races run by NYRA."
Comptroller Hevesi said: "I want to commend Attorney General Spitzer and his staff and Superintendent Bennett on successfully ferreting out more corrupt activity at NYRA's racetracks. Indeed, had it not been for the reforms put into place by the federal monitor who reported to my office for the last 18 moths, I have little doubt the old NYRA management would have never even brought their suspicions forward to the Attorney General. The new NYRA management did so immediately, and they should be commended as well. We look forward to keep working with the Attorney General to ensure integrity, transparency and honesty in New York's racing industry."
Superintendent Bennett said: "This multi-agency investigation has disclosed serious integrity issues surrounding the accurate disclosure to the betting public of the weights of jockeys and has brought to justice the officials involved in this fraud."
The indictment charges NYRA Clerk of Scales Mario Sclafani, 48, of Yorktown Heights and Assistant Clerk of Scales Braulio Baeza, 65, of Elmont with 291 counts, including: Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree; Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree; Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree; Tampering with a Sports Contest in the Second Degree; Grand Larceny in the Third Degree; and other charges. If convicted of the charges, the two men could face up to seven years in state prison. Baeza was the winning jockey in the 1963 Kentucky Derby and a two-time winner of the Eclipse Award which recognizes racing's top rider.
Sclafani was arraigned today and pled not guilty to the charges before Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano. Baeza will be arraigned on October 6, 2005.
The rules of thoroughbred horse racing in New York State require that the weight each horse carries be announced publically so that bettors can make informed wagers. Even a one pound difference between the published weight and the actual weight must be announced to the public prior to the race, and horse owners may replace a jockey if he is more than two pounds over the designated weight for their horse. Any jockey who weighs more than five pounds over his designated weight must be disqualified, according to the rules.
The indictment alleges that the defendants weighed jockeys both before and after each race and were responsible for enforcing these rules and further that they conspired with five prominent jockeys--Robby Albarado, Heberto Castillo, Jr., Jose Santos, Ariel Smith, and Cornelio Velasquez--on 67 occasions from June 23, 2004 to December 15, 2004, to allow them to ride when they weighed anywhere from seven to 15 pounds over the weight announced for the race.
According to the charges the questionable races with overweight jockeys occurred at all three NYRA tracks: Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct. Bettors placed more than $300,000 in "win bets" on horses in these races. However, individuals placing those bets did not know that the horses they picked were being ridden by overweight jockeys.
Horse racing experts consulted by state investigators all agreed that adding extra weight slows down a horse and clearly could have affected the outcome of close races.
The indictment alleges that in order to cover up the fact that jockeys were overweight, the defendants made false entries in official track records.
The jockeys themselves do not face criminal sanctions, but the Attorney General is referring the matter to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for a review of the jockeys' licenses to race in New York State.
The indictment is the result of a year-long investigation conducted by the Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force together with the State Police and the New York State Comptroller. The investigation began when NYRA trustees, in a newly formed oversight committee, informed the Attorney General's office of suspicious activity involving the Clerk of the Scales.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Attorney General Spitzer commended the work of Lt. George Nohai and Investigator Paul Borella of the New York State Police, Investigator Vincent Gisonti of the Organized Crime Task Force, and Michael Durkin, of the New York State Comptroller in this investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Meryl Lutsky, Chief of the Money Laundering Unit, and Assistant Deputy Attorney General John Dormin of the Organized Crime Task Force, under the supervision of Christopher Prather, Deputy Attorney General in Charge of the Organized Crime Task Force.