By: Frank Angst
Following the guilty verdict of trainer Murray Rojas for 14 counts of misbranding drugs as part of an illegal effort to administer race-day medications to horses in 2013, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course banned the trainer, and two others, from the Grantville, Pa., track.
On July 6, Penn National announced plans to eject Rojas, who was recently found guilty in a U.S. District Court of 14 counts of misbranding equine drugs in 2013; her husband, trainer Eduardo Rojas; and trainer Stephanie Beattie, who at the Rojas trial admitted to routinely and illegally administering drugs to horses on race day.
Murray Rojas has not entered a horse at any track since Aug. 8, 2015, but her husband Eduarado is active. This season he has 18 wins from 103 starts and most recently saddled a horse July 5 at Presque Isle Downs.
Beattie, a multiple graded stakes winner, has an 11-6-3 record from 40 starts this season, the most recent being July 1 at Penn National.
The ban from Penn National does not have to be followed by other tracks. Penn National officials said they hope the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission follows Penn National’s lead and takes action against all three trainers. Any suspensions by the regulator would typically be recognized in all states.
“Based on our review of the trial transcript and jury’s verdict, we have immediately taken all actions within our power against Ms. Rojas; her husband, trainer Eduardo Rojas; and trainer Stephanie Beattie by issuing permanent ejections from the racetrack,” said John Finamore, senior vice president of regional operations for Penn National .
Finamore added that he hopes the racing commission revokes the trainers’ licenses so that they are unable to compete at other tracks and said that tracks should have greater latitude in excluding licensees.
“We have no ability or right to suspend or revoke their licenses,” Finamore said. “We are hopeful the Pennsylvania State Horse Racing Commission will uphold the permanent ejections and take appropriate action with respect to their licenses. We look forward to working with the commission to develop reforms, which provide racetrack operators with greater rights to exclude licensees from their private property and make Pennsylvania a leader in drug testing and detection.”
Rojas, 51, of Grantville, Pa., was convicted of 14 felony counts of misbranding prescription drugs on race day and conspiracy. The crimes involved Rojas directing veterinarians to administer drugs to her horses on race day in violation of track rules and state law.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that steps were taken to conceal this conduct by backdating invoices for the sale and administration of drugs to the horses on race day, as well as the submission of fraudulent veterinarian treatment reports to the PSHRC.
The jury returned its verdicts June 30 after one day of deliberation and after an eight-day jury trial in Harrisburg, Pa., before United States District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo. Rojas is awaiting sentencing.
Federal prosecutors did not make their case that Rojas’ infractions amounted to wire fraud, as the jury found her not guilty of seven counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Rojas was convicted of conspiring with three veterinarians to have the drugs administered to horses on the day they were entered to race. A grand jury in Harrisburg indicted Rojas in August of 2015 on the charges related to 11 races, in which she entered horses from Jan. 19-Feb. 16 in 2013 at Penn National.
The United States Attorney’s Office prosecuted several other individuals in federal and state courts as part of this investigation, including:
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 federal prison and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine; Renée Nodine, veterinarian, charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing; Kevin Brophy, veterinarian, charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing; Fernando Motta, veterinarian, charged with misbranding and conspiracy, awaiting sentencing; David Wells, owner and trainer, charged with rigging a publicly exhibited contest, sentenced on Feb. 23, 2015, by Dauphin County Commons Pleas Judge Deborah Curcillo to three months’ imprisonment; Patricia Rogers, trainer, charged with rigging a publicly exhibited contest, received an accelerated rehabilitative disposition (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. (An ARD is a special pre-trial intervention program in Pennsylvania for non-violent offenders with no prior or limited record.)
According to United States Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, the conspiracy took place 2002-14, and involved 58 races.