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Over-Weight Rider’s Lawyer Denies Charges

New York Post
September 23, 2005
By Ed Fountaine

The day after former New York Racing Association clerk of scales Mario Sciafani and his assistant retired Hall-of-Fame jockey Braulio Baeza, were indicted by N.Y. State attorney general Eliot Spitzer for allegedly allowing jockeys to ride at weights above the legal limit, Sciafani’s attorney, Todd Greenberg of Forest Hills, said his client “absolutely denies the charges”, which Greenberg called politically motivated.

“Its no coincidence this indictment against Mr. Sciafani comes on the heels of the dismissal of the federal indictment against NYRA which occurred last week,” Greenberg said. “Its obvious Mr. Sciafani is being handed up as a sacrificial lamb by NYRA so NYRA can keep its lucrative contract (to run Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga racetracks) which is up for renewal.

“All charges in the indictment require criminal intent,” Greenberg added. “Mr. Sciafani had no criminal intent whatsoever.”

Nothing that some jockeys’ equipment, such as their helmets and safety vests are not included in the rider’s weight assignment, Greenberg said “The public is not getting the true weight to begin with. I believe the customs and practices at the racetracks (including many riders’ battle to make weight) are going to be an issue in this case.”

Sciafani and Baeza, suspended last January after the investigation became public, were fired Wednesday after the indictments were announced. But the five riders named as unindicted co-conspirators – Robby Albarado, Herbie Castillo, Jr., Ariel Smith, Jose Santos and Cornelio Velasques – could continue to ride at NYRA tracks for the time being, NYRA president Charles Hayward said yesterday.

“For whatever reason, the attorney general chose not to prosecute the jocks and turned it over to the State Racing and Wagering Board,” Hayward said. “We had a call with (the SRWB) this morning. They’re going to convene an investigation and try and get whatever information the attorney general has so we can make a ruling on whether these guys can continue to ride.

Of the five, Santos and Velasquez are the only ones currently riding in New York; neither wished to comment on the allegations. But their agents, Mike Sellitto and Richard DePass, respectively, both denied their riders did anything wrong.

Sellitto, however, pointed out that before Santos rode Lion Tamer to win the $350,000 Cigar Mile last Nov. 27 at Aqueduct at listed weight of 115 pounds – one of three races in which he is alleged to have been at least seven pounds overweight – he also rode at 115 pounds two races earlier, but is not charged with being overweight in that contest.