By: Paulick Report Staff
Trainer Murray Rojas was sentenced on Monday to 27 months in federal prison on 14 felony counts of misbranding prescription drugs over a 13-year period from 2002-’14 at Penn National in Grantville, Pa.
Rojas was convicted by a jury in June 2017 in United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Pa. She was found not guilty of wire fraud charges. She was sentenced to 27 months for each misbranding count, with the sentences to run concurrently.
Judge Sylvia Rambo, who presided over the trial, ordered Rojas to report to prison on June 3 at a facility designated by the Bureau of Prisons. She was also sentenced to serve two years of supervised release and pay a $5,000 fine. A decision whether Rojas will be allowed to remain on bail pending an appeal is under advisement by the court.
The conviction of Rojas was part of an FBI probe into illegal activity at Penn National that led to guilty pleas, convictions or accelerated rehabilitative dispositions of nine others, including a clocker, racing official, four veterinarians and three trainers. A number of other trainers implicated in the investigation have since been charged by the Dauphin County district attorney with rigging a publicly exhibited contest in Pennsylvania – a first-degree misdemeanor.
Among those prosecuted as part of the investigation in federal and state court, are:
• Danny Robertson, the official clocker, charged with wire fraud, sentenced to one year probation and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine;
• Craig Lytel, a racing official, charged with wire fraud, sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine;
• David Wells, owner and trainer, charged with rigging a publicly exhibited contest, sentenced on Feb. 23, 2015, to three months’ imprisonment;
• Patricia Rogers, trainer, charged with rigging a publicly exhibited contest, received an ARD in Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas;
• Samuel Webb, trainer, charged with rigging a publicly exhibited contest, received an ARD in Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas;
• Renée Nodine, veterinarian, charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing;
• Kevin Brophy, veterinarian, charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing; and
• Fernando Motta, veterinarian, charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing;
• Christopher Korte, veterinarian charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing.
Testimony in the trial alleged horses trained by Rojas were routinely treated with therapeutic medication on race day in violation of state regulations. The misuse of the drugs broke federal laws, prosecutors charged. Veterinary records were altered to conceal the prohibited treatments and fraudulent reports were submitted to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. One trainer, former Pennsylvania Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association president Stephanie Beattie – once the leading trainer at Penn National – testified that “almost everybody” at Penn National cheated. “Ninety-five to 98%,” Beattie said under oath. “It was a known practice. We wanted to win and they weren’t testing for those drugs at that time.”
Robert Goldman, attorney for Rojas, said as much in a pre-sentencing letter to the court. “The claim that ‘every trainer who had a horse in a race … was victimized’ is bogus and the government knows this,” Goldman wrote. “The FBI advised defense counsel that 90% of the trainers illegally had their veterinarians administer drugs on race day.”
Goldman had asked the court for probation for his client.
A legal defense fund affiliated with the National HBPA helped pay for Rojas’ attorney fees.
Eduardo Rojas, the husband of Murray Rojas who was not named in any of the criminal cases, continues to operate a public stable at Penn National after a Pennsylvania court ruled that the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission violated his civil rights by upholding a private property ejection served on him by track officials.
In addition to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Horse Racing Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney William A. Behe prosecuted the case.