Superseding Indictment Alleges Navarro And Servis Doping Programs Stretch Back To 2016

A superseding indictment filed this week revealed a few new details about the alleged doping programs orchestrated by embattled trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis and others from the much-reported federal indictments earlier this year. The superseding indictment includes four charges of drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy as well as one count of mail and wire fraud.

Servis, along with veterinarians Dr. Kristian Rhein and Alexander Chan, were charged with mail and wire fraud conspiracy for using the U.S. mail to distribute and receive misbranded or adulterated drugs. One count of drug adulteration/misbranding includes Navarro, veterinarian Dr. Erica Garcia, Marcos Zulueta, Michael Tannuzzo, Christopher Oakes and Dr. Seth Fishman. Another count groups Fishman with son Jordan Fishman, alleged drug distributor Lisa Giannelli, and trainer Rick Dane Jr. A third count charges Navarro, Servis, Rhein, Chan, and drug representative Michael Kegley Jr., who allegedly sold SGF-1000. The fourth adulteration/misbranding charge is against Rebecca Linke.

Gregory Skelton, Ross Cohen, Nick Surick, Chris Marino and Servis’s former assistant Henry Argueta are not named in the superseding indictment. It remains unclear from their federal case files whether this could mean they have made deals with federal prosecutors to provide information or testimony for lighter sentences. Many of the documents in their files in the case remain under seal.

There were no new defendants identified in the indictment beyond those originally indicted in March.

If found guilty, the defendants could be required to forfeit assets obtained as a result of their crimes. The drug adulteration and misbranding charges carry maximum prison sentences of five years, but the mail and wire fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The doping programs alleged in this week’s indictment are much the same as they were described in the original indictment from March, depicting performance-enhancing drugs manufactured in laboratories that are not Food and Drug Administration-approved. Those drugs were often deliberately mislabeled to evade suspicion as they traveled through the backstretch or through the mail. Drug makers sold the substances to trainers, the indictment alleges, and some trainers sold them to one another, occasionally changing their labels along the way. Trainers were assured the drugs could not test, or that in the case of SGF-1000, it could only produce a false positive for dexamethasone, prompting trainers and veterinarians to cause vet records be altered to cover for any accidental or deceptive positives.

This week’s indictment did allege for the first time that doping by both Navarro and Servis went on as far back as 2016 and continued through February or March 2020, when they were arrested. Servis stands accused of using SGF-1000 and other illegal substances on “virtually all” of his trainees during that time.

Specific horses named

Like the March indictment, this week’s documents described the doping of Navarro trainee XY Jet as an example of Navarro’s doping network at play. Prosecutors describe Zulueta shipping an adulterated pain blocker overnight to Navarro on Feb. 9, 2019, from Zulueta’s base in Pennsylvania to Navarro in Florida for administration to XY Jet. On Feb. 11, after Navarro expressed disappointment with the horse’s workout, Oakes provided Navarro with another pain blocker for the horse, and on Feb. 13, Garcia agreed to administer a misbranded blood builder called “monkey” to the horse, according to the indictment. On Feb. 13, XY Jet won an allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Park in preparation for the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 30.

On March 22, while in the United Arab Emirates, Navarro is accused of personally administering “monkey” to the horse, later telling Zulueta, “I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.”

Navarro later credited Fishman with the horse’s win in the race.

XY Jet would die of a heart attack in January. He had earned $3 million at the time of his death.

Additional details also surfaced about Servis’s alleged doping program with regard to Maximum Security. In addition to the SGF-1000 he was already accused of giving the horse, this week’s indictment claims the horse also received clenbuterol as a performance enhancer. Although a legal therapeutic drug for lung infections, clenbuterol is known to have an anabolic-like side effect if dosed repeatedly. New Jersey racing regulators pulled biological samples from Maximum Security on June 5, 2019, as part of a pre-race test for the Pegasus Stakes on June 16, where he would run second. According to the indictment, the colt had gotten a dose of SGF-1000 just days prior, but that was not detected in test results.

A representative with the company producing SGF-1000 is on record as admitting he did not know the precise contents of SGF-1000 and acknowledging that Servis accounted for nearly as many sales of the drug as his veterinarian.

Covering their tracks

The indictment states that drugs were transported in packaging that referred to them as “for research purposes only” (likely because the federal restrictions that apply to mailing prescription drugs do not apply to research materials) or as “homeopathic” products.

Another strategy to make the substances look less threatening was to deliberately mislabel them as dietary supplements, which are not under the FDA’s purview, according to the indictment.

In an intercepted call between Kegley Jr. and Rhein (both of whom were affiliated with SGF-1000 producer MediVet Equine), Kegley stated, “[W]e can even put on the box, you know, ‘dietary supplement for equine [horse.]’ That way it’s not, no one even has to question if it’s FDA approved or not — it’s strictly a supplement … ”

Read more about the tricky business of regulating dietary supplements, and why producers of PEDs sometimes market their products this way, in this 2016 Paulick Report feature.

SGF-1000 has been marketed in different ways before and after it began drawing scrutiny from regulators, but the indictment claims the substance contains growth factors including fibroblast growth factor and hepatocyte growth factor.

According to the indictment, Servis, Rhein, and Chan would falsify not only veterinary records to conceal the administration of SGF-1000, but also billing records so owners wouldn’t know what their horses were receiving. Rhein, Chan, and unnamed others would bill the expense of the drug as “acupuncture and chiropractic” treatments which the horse never received. Misbranded clenbuterol would appear on bills under a designation called “stable supplies.”

New substances

In addition to previously-described SGF-1000, various versions of EPO, and pain blockers, a couple of new substances were mentioned in this week’s indictment. ITPP, known more formally as myo-inositol trispyrophosphate, has been studied in human medicine as a treatment option for cancer patients since it increases oxygenation to tissues. Because of that effect however, it has also been a favorite of human athletes looking for illegal performance enhancement.

In 2016, trainer Roy Sedlacek was handed a five-year suspension of his license after two of his horses tested positive for AH-7921, a substance with morphine-like qualities. Sedlacek told officials he thought he was giving his horses ITPP. ITPP is found on a number of dubious websites purporting to offer performance-enhancing drugs or supplements to horse trainers. In reality, testing experts say it’s quite expensive to produce, raising questions about how much of the ITPP marketed to trainers is genuine. Australian authorities have voiced concerns about the substance there as far back as 2011, claiming its use was then believed to be common in American harness racing.

Fishman allegedly supplied the ITPP to Navarro and others under the name ITP Plus and also offered a similar product called BB3, purported to be a blood builder. Those blood builders allegedly could pass drug tests designed to catch EPO, Fishman explained, because although they acted similarly, they were different substances. Between January 2017, according to the indictment, Navarro paid Fishman “tens of thousands of dollars” to purchase PEDs.

On an intercepted April 2019 call with an unidentified prospective customer, Fishman makes no bones about the implications of administering the substances he makes, particularly untestable blood builders, the indictment states.

“Don’t kid yourself: if you’re giving something to a horse to make it better, and you’re not supposed to do that … that’s doping,” Fishman said. “You know, whether or not it’s testable, that’s a different story.”

 

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