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‘Fat Jockey’ Case KO’d

By Ed Fountaine

September 18, 2007 — All charges against two former New York Racing Association officials indicted in the so-called “fat jockeys” scandal were dismissed yesterday by Saratoga County judge Jerry Scarano, but the case is far from over.

Mario Sclafani, 50, the clerk of scales, and his assistant, retired Hall of Fame jockey Braulio Baeza, 67, are eyeing possible civil action against the prosecution and NYRA, which initiated the investigation and fired both men two years ago, for the “financial and emotional hardship” they endured, according to Sclafani’s attorney, Todd Greenberg. Sclafani and Baeza were indicted by former state attorney general, now governor Eliot Spitzer on 291 counts charging fraud, conspiracy, larceny and tampering with a sports event for allegedly allowing five different jockeys, including recently retired Hall of Famer Jose Santos and Cornelio Velasquez, who won this summer’s riding title at Saratoga, to ride above their listed weights in over 60 races from June to Dec. 2004 at Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.

The trial began Sept. 4 in Ballston Spa, N.Y. Last Tuesday, prior to adjournment for the Jewish holidays, the prosecution presented videotape evidence showing the jockeys weighing in at Saratoga Race Course. Testimony indicated, however, that the scale being used was not calibrated properly, as required by law. When the trial resumed yesterday, the defense motioned that the case be dismissed.

Judge Scarano, over the prosecution’s objection, concurred, dropping all the charges involving the Saratoga races. Furthermore, he ruled that his court did not have jurisdiction over the charges involving the downstate races, and so dismissed all 291 counts. Because the evidence is so shaky, it is unlikely the prosecution will re-indict Sclafani and Baeza for the races at Belmont and Aqueduct.

“One juror said the judge did what the jury was going to do anyway,” Greenberg said. “The methodology used by the investigators was terribly flawed and inaccurate” in that they never took into account equipment, such as the helmet and safety vest, that is not meant to be included in the assigned weight.

Greenberg asserted that Sclafani and Baeza “were victims of political circumstances.” NYRA, he said, which was then under a federal indictment (since dismissed) and is seeking to have its franchise renewed, “handed them up as sacrificial lambs to the attorney general (Spitzer) to show compliance with a deferred prosecution agreement for the purpose of showing its own worthiness of a new contract.”

On Sept. 4, Gov. Spitzer recommended that the franchise NYRA has held since 1955, which expires Dec. 31, be renewed for 30 years.