Thoroughbred trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro headline a list of 19 defendants who pleaded not guilty to federal charges involving horse doping during a Thursday arraignment and pre-trial conference conducted telephonically in the US Attorney General’s office for the Southern District of New York.

Jason Servis at 2019 Derby
Trainer Jason Servis, seen here after his prize charge Maximum Security was disqualified from the 2019 Kentucky Derby, has far more pressing problems these days. (Image: Getty Images)

The pair, along with numerous other trainers, veterinarians, and pharmaceutical distributors, were arrested March 9 in the culmination of a long-running FBI investigation into drug use in the horse racing industry covering racetracks along the East Coast and Midwest. Related cases boost the number of defendants to 29.

Four other defendants have been charged with money laundering that relates to racing and the use of performance-enhancing drugs on racehorses.

Charges Involve Numerous Conspiracies

The charges center around four separate cases of conspiracies to manufacture, distribute and administer adulterated or misbranded performance-enhancing drugs for racehorses. There are six counts in the indictment, with each count carrying a maximum penalty of five years in jail. Navarro is charged in two of the counts, and Servis in one.

Navarro and Ross Cohen, a harness racing trainer, were the only defendants participating in the call.

Servis is best known for training 2019 Eclipse Award 3-year-old Champion Male, Maximum Security, who was the first across the finish line at the Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference. Navarro led the Monmouth Park earnings list for trainers seven times. He was the top trainer at the 2018-19 Gulfstream Park Championship Meet.

During the 2018-20 period covered by the indictment, Navarro won 447 races and earned more than $14.1 million. Servis won 331 races with nearly $20 million in earnings, a figure that does not count Maximum Security’s $10 million windfall earned for winning February’s Saudi Cup.

Drug Charges Involve Maximum Security

After last month’s arrest, Maximum Security’s owner, Gary West, moved the horse to Bob Baffert’s barn at Santa Anita. Servis is accused of administering a performance-enhancing drug called SGF-100 to Maximum Security and his other horses, then conspiring with a vet to cover up the doping.

During the hearing, Assistant US Attorney Andrew C. Adams, along with fellow SDNY Assistant US Attorneys Sarah Mortazavi and Benet Kearney, laid out an evidence-laden case they said included a year’s worth of wiretapped phone conversations, some between three to four phones intercepted simultaneously.

During the arraignment, Adams stated that FBI investigators carried out search warrants on numerous premises, including a small pharmacy and on an unnamed racehorse. The first of three discovery phases included bank records and the seizure of numerous electronic devices, including computers, cell phones, hard drives, and thumb drives.

Additional Indictments Possible

Adams said more indictments are possible because “there are still documents and records coming into the government from various parties.” Post-arrest statements from defendants add another variable to the process.

Phase two of discovery will include audio files of telephone intercepts and consensual recordings and other business records. Adams said the third and final phase will take the most time — six months — because it involves extracting electronic records from the seized devices, and an FBI review regarding warrants used to seize those devices.

US District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil set the next conference for June 30. She said a third conference will follow in the fall, whereupon she will set a trial date. Because of the lengthy discovery process and manpower issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the trial isn’t expected until 2021.

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