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Thoroughbred Trainer, Head of NY Vet Clinic Plead Guilty to Horse Doping Scheme: Feds

Participants in the alleged scheme sought to improve race performance and obtain prize money from racetracks throughout the United States and other countries, including in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the UAE

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A thoroughbred trainer and the head of a New York veterinary clinic pled guilty in Manhattan federal court to their roles in a horse doping scheme, Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced Wednesday.

Jorge Navarro and Kristian Rhein pled guilty to their respective roles in the distribution of adulterated and misbranded drugs with the intent to defraud and mislead in the case United States v. Navarro et al. Rhein will be sentenced on Dec. 2, while Navarro will be sentenced on Dec. 17.

The latest guilty pleas come weeks after a drug company's sales director also pled to his role in the same horse racing doping scheme and months after a horse racing doping scandal rocked the sport when Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit's failed a drug tests.

According to the allegations contained in court documents, the charges in the Navarro case arise from an investigation of widespread schemes by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, performance-enhancing drug (“PED”) distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses competing at all levels of professional horseracing.

Allegedly, participants in the scheme sought to improve race performance and obtain prize money from racetracks throughout the United States and other countries, including in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the UAE, despite the risk of the health and well-being of the racehorses. 

According to court documents, the trainers who participated in the scheme, including Navarro, profited from the success of racehorses under their control by earning a share of their horses’ winnings, and by improving their horses’ racing records, they netted higher trainer fees and increased the number of racehorses under their control.

Navarro operated his doping scheme covertly, importing misbranded “clenbuterol” that he both used and distributed to others, according to prosecutors.  Among the horses that Navarro trained and doped was XY Jet, a thoroughbred horse that won the 2019 Golden Shaheen race in Dubai.

Meanwhile, veterinarians, like Rhein, who was the head veterinarian and owner of Empire Veterinary Group, profited from the sale and administration of these medically unnecessary, misbranded, and adulterated substances.

Prosecutors say that Rhein, and others working under Rhein's direction, created false billing records to be provided to horse owners that did not reflect the drugs that they had actually injected into racehorses under their “care.”  Through this false billing scheme, Rhein attempted to hide from investigators and horse owners the means of administration of the PEDs that he and others provided and administered.

Among the misbranded and adulterated PEDs promoted, sold, and administered by Rhein were an illegally distributed prescription drug, Clenbuterol, and the drug “SGF-1000,” which was manufactured in unregistered facilities and contained growth factors that the accused were undetectable through regular drug screens.

The horse “Maximum Security,” briefly considered the winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby -- though later disqualified -- was among the horses that Rhein assisted in doping.  On June 5, 2019, New Jersey racing regulators tested Maximum Security for performance-enhancing drugs a short time after Maximum Security had received a shot of the undetectable SGF-1000.  The testing occurred in advance of a race scheduled for June 16, 2019, in which Maximum Security competed and placed second.

Through their pleas, Navarro has agreed to the payment of restitution in the amount of $25,860,514, reflecting winnings obtained through his fraudulent doping scheme, and Rhein has agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $729,716 in connection with fraud committed through a false billing practice related to Rhein’s drug misbranding scheme. 

In a statement, Strauss said in part: “Kristian Rhein and Jorge Navarro represent the supply side and the customer side of the market in performance-enhancing substances that have corrupted much of the horse racing industry...These latest convictions demonstrate the continued commitment of this Office and our partners at the FBI to the investigation and prosecution of corruption, fraud, and endangerment at every level of the horse racing industry.”

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