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Two Former Scales Clerks for NYRA Are Cleared

September 18, 2007
New York Times
By Bill Finley

The charges against two former New York Racing Association employees, the retired jockey Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani, were dismissed yesterday by a Saratoga County judge. Sclafani and Baeza, who had each worked in the jockeys’ quarters at the NYRA tracks, had been accused of allowing several jockeys to ride at weights far greater than those that were being reported to the betting public.

After investigators from the office of Eliot Spitzer, then the attorney general, raided Aqueduct in 2004, Baeza, 67, and Sclafani, 50, were charged with tampering with a sports contest, scheming to defraud, falsifying business records, conspiracy, grand larceny and petit larceny. It was never alleged that the two men received bribes or were betting based on inside information, only that their actions may have misled the public into betting on horses whose chances were compromised by the overweight jockeys.

Lawyers for the two men had argued that the case against their clients was flawed and that the investigators did not understand the rules of racing. In part, Judge Jerry Scarano appeared to agree. He based his ruling on his finding that the jockey scale at Saratoga, where many of the alleged infractions occurred, was old and not properly calibrated.

“We felt from the beginning that the case against these two was based on faulty evidence and that they had no real evidence of any wrongdoing,” said Todd Greenberg, a lawyer representing Sclafani, the former NYRA clerk of scales. “I’m still amazed they ever got indicted. They misled the grand jury; they misunderstood the rules of racing.”

The office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, which took over the case after Spitzer was elected governor, did not return a telephone call. None of the jockeys were charged with wrongdoing, which left Sclafani and Baeza as the focus of the case. In Baeza, who was the assistant clerk of scales, authorities had charged a Hall of Fame jockey who had won a Kentucky Derby and was a respected member of the New York racing community.

“I’m very bitter,” Baeza said yesterday. “You have to realize that these people took three years of my life and deprived me of making a living. I was so embarrassed when they handcuffed me and put me in a jail cell. Never in my life had I gone through anything like that. I was humiliated, and it was all over something where I did nothing wrong.”

The two were arrested at a time when NYRA was fighting for survival and appeared eager to show lawmakers who would decide its future that it was cracking down on malfeasance after several of its mutual clerks were found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering. Peter Karches, then a co-chairman of the NYRA board, acknowledged he was the one who tipped off Spitzer’s office about a possible problem with the jockeys. Karches died in 2006. Paul DerOhannesian, Baeza’s attorney, said NYRA’s situation at the time played a part in the ordeal.

“They were in a battle with competing groups to retain their franchise and they had to do something to show everyone what a good job they were doing going after people who might have been breaking rules,” DerOhannesian said. “You take that and a careless investigation, and those are the factors that caused Braulio to lose three years off his life.”

Sclafani said he intended to take legal action against the state and NYRA.