While the horse racing world was focused on last week’s Congressional hearing on racing and drugs, a potentially much more significant event occurred a day later. The federal prosecutor with jurisdiction over Penn National Race Course filed four indictments, three against trainers and one against a clocker. The trainers were each charged with federal law violations for conduct contrary to the state’s regulatory standards; the clocker was charged with falsifying workout times. The potential penalties are severe – imprisonment for up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Each of the indictments against the trainers (who are being charged individually, not collectively) alleges they either administered a medication not permitted under Pennsylvania law within 24 hours of a race, or had syringes and medications in their barns that were prohibited by the state. Two of the trainers, Samuel Webb and Patricia Roberts, were literally caught with the syringe in hand. The third, David Wells, who is third in numbers of wins at Penn this year, is accused of a four-year pattern of violating Pennsylvania’s medication rules. Clocker Danny Robertson is accused of fabricating workouts and workout times in exchange for payments from trainers.
Anyone familiar with racing knows – or suspects – that there are drug violations and that some clockers play games with workout times. That doesn’t make the business unique since all enterprises have their cheats. But how does this become a federal crime? Because the simulcasting of Penn’s racing to other states and countries means the federal laws prohibiting wire fraud and the “use of an interstate facility to promote gambling in violation of state law” come into play. The wire fraud in the case of both illegal doping and incorrect workout information is that bettors are being deceived by being provided with false information – through the internet – about a horse’s chances in a given race. The state law violations are those governing the administration of medications and the recording of accurate workout times.
The hearing in Congress may have received more attention last week, but the federal prosecutions should send a chill down the spine of anyone who is cheating. Being charged with a federal crime is no small matter, particularly when the potential penalties are as high as they are in each of these cases. There is a reason a federal criminal courthouse is described as the “house of pain.” Most prosecutions either end in a plea deal or a conviction. A defendant who escapes with neither is nonetheless looking at substantial legal bills.
The evidence needed for a conviction may not be as substantial as one may think, at least according to the particulars of the indictments against the trainers. None of the doping allegations specify the drug that was administered or that the trainer attempted to administer. Nor is there any allegation that a test came back positive. It is enough that a trainer had a syringe in his or her hand, or that there were syringes or medications in the barn – neither of which is permitted under the Pennsylvania regulations when possessed by someone not a veterinarian.
Much of the debate surrounding the issue of illegal drugging centers on testing, the reliability of testing laboratories, and the cumbersome administrative protocols for disciplining those caught. If you can be charged with a federal crime for merely possessing the instrumentality – syringe or drug – that could be used to administer an impermissible medication, the racing world could be entering a whole new environment.