By Mark Johnson
September 21, 2005, 6:56 PM ET
ALBANY, N.Y. - Two key New York Racing Association officials were charged Wednesday with falsely reporting the weight of several prominent jockeys at NYRA's three thoroughbred tracks and defrauding the betting public and the horses' trainers and owners, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said.
An indictment unsealed in Saratoga County Court charges NYRA clerk of the scales Mario Sclafani and assistant clerk of the scales Braulio Baeza with 291 criminal counts, including scheme to defraud, conspiracy, falsifying business records, tampering with a sports contest and grand larceny.
Sclafani, 48, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Wednesday. The 65-year-old Baeza, a Hall of Fame jockey who won the 1963 Kentucky Derby, is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 6.
The two are accused of allowing jockeys Jose Santos, who rode Funny Cide to victory in the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Robby Albarado, Herbert Castillo Jr., Ariel Smith and Cornelio Velasquez to ride 67 times at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct from June 23, 2004 to Dec. 15, 2004, even though they were seven to 15 pounds over their announced weight. The races included 10 stakes contests, including the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile.
That cheated bettors out of accurate data to make their wagers, Spitzer said. New York racing rules state that even a one-pound difference between the published weight and the actual weight must be announced to the public prior to the race and horse owners may replace a jockey if he is more than two pounds over the designated weight for a horse.
Sclafani and Baeza received gratuities from the jockeys, but they are not being charged with taking kickbacks in exchange for making the false entries. By falsifying the weights, Sclafani and Baeza helped the jockeys get their riding fees, Assistant Deputy Attorney General John Dormin said.
"These two officials basically had one job to do and that was to ensure that the weight of the jockeys was recorded accurately and then disclosed to bettors," Spitzer said. "Instead, they misled the public and compromised the integrity of races run by NYRA." NYRA said Wednesday Sclafani and Baeza have been fired.
The two were suspended in January when the allegations first became known, NYRA said. The association has since instituted a number of reforms, including the use of digital scales at each of its three racetracks, to avoid future problems.
Chief Executive Charles Hayward said NYRA initiated an investigation into the accusations two years ago and has "cooperated fully with all government and law enforcement agencies."
The jockeys do not face criminal charges, but Spitzer's office is referring the matter to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for a review of their licenses, Spitzer spokesman Paul Larrabee said.
A message left on the number listed as Sclafani's home telephone was not immediately returned. There was no number listed for Baeza.
The indictments is the latest problem for an organization state Comptroller Alan Hevesi has called "the poster child for mismanagement and corruption."
In June, an audit by Hevesi's office found NYRA gave a no-bid contract worth $797,913 to its ex-CEO's daughter and son-in-law, issued another no-bid contract that paid a public relations firm $1.6 million, and "squandered" at least $400,000 a year on trophies. Some of the action happened after NYRA made a deal with the federal court to reform itself in the wake of a federal indictment alleging tax evasion and management failures.
Last week, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Hevesi's office said NYRA had reformed itself enough to avoid a federal indictment and be in the running to retain its lucrative racing franchise.
The private organization holds an exclusive franchise to run races at the state's Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks. The franchise is slated to expire in 2007.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press