What We Learned From New Wiretap Evidence In The Federal Drug Case

Last week, prosecutors filed a 155-page response document in an ongoing fight over wiretap evidence against trainer Jason Servis and a handful of other defendants in the well-known federal drugs case. While it remains unclear when U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil will rule on a series of motions to exclude intercepted phone, text, and email conversations among the defendants, the response did include previously unpublished transcripts that shed new light on the case.

The response document addressed a series of separate and joint motions from veterinarian and drug maker Dr. Seth Fishman, drug sales representative Lisa Giannelli, Jordan Fishman, veterinarians Dr. Erica Garcia and Dr. Alex Chan, and trainers Jason Servis and Christopher Oakes. Although the defendants structured their arguments somewhat differently, they are asserting that the wire tap evidence was acquired illegally — both because FBI investigators did not use other investigative techniques available to them, and because the applications for new and ongoing surveillance were deceptive to the judges who signed off on them.

Prosecutors, predictably, dispute the defendants’ assertions, citing legal standards regarding probable cause and existing evidence justifying each new request. Their response was primarily designed to address the legal arguments at hand, not specifically to reveal to the public new information about the case. For that reason, there are some snippets of transcript where names or other details are omitted or redacted, so some of the new transcripts lack context. Still, there were a few new details of interest to the racing public following the case at home.

You can read the full response document here.

  • Nick Surick was the origin point for some defendants in this case. When drug adulteration and misbranding charges were first announced against 27 defendants in March 2020, prosecutors said (rather cryptically) that those March arrests were the fruit of a different investigation that had bled over into horse racing. We still don’t know what that investigation was, but we know that the FBI began looking at Jorge Navarro because of his association with Standardbred trainer Nicholas Surick. Navarro entered a guilty plea in August. Surick, originally charged with drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy and obstruction, was left off a superseding indictment filed in November 2020, but his case is not listed as closed in the federal system. It remains unclear whether he has taken a deal with prosecutors. The FBI became aware of Navarro when it intercepted its communications with Surick in January 2019, at which point it had been investigating Surick “and others” for “months.”Navarro is framed in the document as “both a facilitator of Surick’s doping activities and as a kind of doping ‘mentor.’” Navarro and Surick had conversations about Northern Virgin, a horse Surick allegedly hid twice from racing officials in order to avoid their taking an out-of-competition sample from the horse. Surick said he had administered a blood builder to the horse relatively recently when they arrived to test the horse.
  • Navarro and Servis may have had help from track security to conceal their doping activities. The document contains a number of transcripts of conversations between Navarro and Servis as they compared doping programs and shared information about testing and security. Each of them made reference to having connections with individuals in racetrack security who let them know when searches were imminent. The document does not specify who those individuals may be or which racetrack one or both connections were located.
  • Servis’ program involved two versions of clenbuterol. Conversations between Navarro and Servis also refer to “regular” clenbuterol and “other” clenbuterol, which they believe have different detection times in drug tests. Prosecutors say that both versions of clenbuterol were used without valid prescriptions. It’s never specified what the difference is between the two, but regulators have reported finding compounded clenbuterol in the course of investigations which is designed to be significantly more potent (ten times more potent, in some cases) than the commercially-available, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved version. Prosecutors speculate that the use of clenbuterol, which is considered a legitimate therapeutic drug, in this context is likely to point to abuse of the drug for its anabolic effects.
  • Dr. Kristian Rhein may have been party to questionable activities beyond the scope of this case. Rhein, who was the track veterinarian for Servis and many others, entered a guilty plea in this case in late July and agreed to forfeit more than $1 million of proceeds he generated from illegal drug sales. Apparently, he knows where some metaphorical bodies are buried on the backstretch — in an intercepted conversation with Servis, Rhein recalled an unnamed individual whom Servis had been complaining about.”He is such a little bitch,” Rhein said. “He is just a little sawed-off bitch. I worked for him. I mean I worked for him. He had me shock waving horses. He would leave me these notes. They were hidden in his drawer and then we used to use Decadurabalin [Deca-Durabolin, a trade name for anabolic steroid nandrolone]. I used to use Winstrol [a steroid] and he was like ‘Don’t you dare put that on the bill.”

    “Wow,” Servis said.”I’m like … you know … so this guy, he talks out of both sides of his mouth,” Rhein said.

    “Yeah he does and one day somebody is going to write a fucking book,” Servis responded. “It is going to be a groom or a vet somebody and he is going to hang them all out.”

    “Yeah, believe me we could,” said Rhein. “I was there. I mean, I know these hypocrites. I mean I did all these guys work. I know who was using and who was not, who needed to, who didn’t, I mean. I don’t say it lightly, but shit. I was doing [several other individuals — not named in the document], I had all those barns. I was doing all their lameness. And these guys were the first ones that wanted you to do it, ‘hey what can we do?’ … Like I said, it is never on a bill. It is never on a bill. That is the problem.”

    (We don’t know who he’s referring to, either. Remember, tips can be emailed to us at Ask Ray.)

  • Rhein was also giving off-label bisphosphonates. An intercepted call between Chan and Servis on June 17, 2019 discussed Rhein’s use of Tildren — an FDA-approved bisphosphonate labeled for use in horses four years old and up. Chan said Rhein had been giving the drug to 2-year-olds “at like half dose.” Chan also told Servis (incorrectly) that the drug was cleared for horses three years old and up. Further, he incorrectly said “it’s one of those things that’s easy to test for but it’s just they can’t mark it property so they don’t really know when you gave it. But you know now that they have the rule that it should be four and up and you really have no excuse if they found it in your 2-year-old. You know what I mean, but if like it was a 4-year-old then you could be like, ‘Oh man it got it sometime before I got the horse’ or something like that.” Read more about bisphosphonates here.
  • Prosecutors say wire taps were the only way to uncover much of this evidence, because the defendants were careful. In addition to coordinating with each other to anticipate and evade barn searches and out-of-competition testing, the wire taps reveal that the defendants were cautious about who they offered their services to. FBI agents did not believe they could successfully plant an undercover agent in any of the trainers’ or veterinarians’ businesses to surveil them, and pointed out that monitoring outside barns, even using pole cameras and other hidden recording devices, would be more likely to be spotted than they would be to capture evidence of a horse being injected. Even if they did get video of an injection, it would not be enough to show what the substance was and whether it was adulterated. Besides those logistical challenges, conversations between Fishman and Giannelli made reference to whether unnamed potential clients could “be trusted,” suggesting that they were unwilling to do business with someone they thought may inform to officials on their program, or who may administer drugs in a way that would get them caught. One informant lost connection with Surick after rumors surfaced in October 2018 that the informant (also unnamed) had begun cooperating with law enforcement. Read more about the difficulties of investigating illegal drugs in racing in this commentary from the Paulick Report.
  • Seth Fishman’s operation was extensive and complex. While much of the focus on Medivet Equine seems to be its SGF-1000 and TB-1000 products, Seth Fishman’s catalogue was much larger. In a phone call between Navarro and Seth Fishman, Navarro asked Fishman for “that amino acid injectable shit that you sent me” which prompted Fishman to later ask for more specificity, as he said he had “hundreds of products.” Fishman also said he created customized programs, and sometimes even customized substances, for each trainer client he had. His theory was that if one trainer were caught, regulatory authorities would immediately begin looking for the drug or drugs used by that person. Fishman believed he had a better chance at remaining in business if each substance combination was unique enough that the discovery of one wouldn’t necessarily reveal others. Fishman told potential customers the benefits of using a non-commercially available (non-FDA approved) drug were that many were untestable. “Unless somebody turns you in to the race jurisdiction, no one is going to test for it because it’s not known until it is known,” he said.
  • Some defendants could not remember the names of the drugs they were using and did not seem to know what was in them. At various times, Navarro referred to SGF as HGF. Servis referred to Maximum Security having received the “KS” and was later corrected by Rhein to say it was “the SG.” Rhein, who was distributing SGF-1000, had a lot to say about how SGF-1000 could not appear in post-race tests, and if anything, would show up as collagen or maybe dexamethasone. (Note: we ran this ‘SGF as dexamethasone’ theory by testing experts, and they were clear it was virtually impossible for one drug to be confused with another in post-race testing.)But although Rhein said the substance would not test positive for any “growth factors,” he did not seem to understand whether SGF-1000 contained “growth hormone.” In one conversation with Servis, Rhein said, “So, but…between you and me, because [of] the testing, they called me from the test center here and I was like, ‘What’s up?’ They go, ‘Do you know anything?’ So what they called it, they called it ‘growth hormone.’ They were like ‘You’re using some sheep growth hormone.’   I go, ‘No, it has no growth hormone whatsoever in it.’ And I said, ‘It tested as collagen, which is a protein. A fine…there is nothing wrong with it.’  I told him the name of the gentleman that [had tested] it in California. I said ‘His name is [redacted].’ He goes, ‘Oh, I know him.’ I said, ‘The Jockey Club had it tested. They were all freaked out, they thought it w’And he said, ‘Listen, somebody dropped a dime on me.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ They are like, ‘Yeah.’ So all we need to do…I’m not going to say anything to anything else. I’m just going to tell [co-defendant veterinarian] Alex [Chan] and people like that. Like it is not on any of our bills. It never is.”

    In a separate conversation with co-defendant Michael Kegley Jr., who has entered a guilty plea, Rhein said, “Make sure there is no growth hormone in there because if they are calling it that, and it is in there then we’ll — we need to — but I can’t imagine there is. There’s no — I can’t — I don’t think a fetus [i.e., the source of the purported sheep placenta from which SGF-1000 is derived] has growth hormone in it. There’s just — I don’t — I don’t think fetal placenta membranes have growth hormones. You know, I’ll do some research tonight but I don’t believe that’s correct.

    “I think it could have something that stimulates it … Well here’s the thing is, I don’t think it does. And just because they can test for it, doesn’t mean they will. Now if it has growth hormone, I mean, it costs them a lot of money to test. A lot of money. And then the second thing is, how long is something in there. Well if we’re giving it five to seven days out then we’re fine. It’s not gonna hang around. It’s — nothing hangs around long. EPO doesn’t hang around that long.”

  • When MediVet Equine did find out what was in SGF-1000, they hid it. Exhibit documents revealed a letter sent by the makers of SGF-1000 to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in September 2019, complaining that their product should not be called out by the organization as “illegal.” MediVet Equine provided a copy of test results from a test it ordered via Industrial Labs, showing that the substance was negative for IGF-1 and Follistatin. What MediVet Equine didn’t tell RMTC was that the testing on SGF-1000 had come back positive for acepromazine, leavamisole, detomidine, pyrilamine, lidocaine, MEGX, xylazine, and caffeine. No further explanation is revealed in the document as to why those substances were present in the sample.
  • Defendants seem to have a lot of information — or at least, they believe they have a lot of information — about drug testing. When consulted by a panicking Surick about attempts at out-of-competition testing for Northern Virgin, Navarro assured Surick that the “real EPO” (as opposed to “generic EPO” also referenced by the two men) would be testable for three days. At four days, regulators would “see a cloud but they don’t know what the fuck it is … Now five days, you are good. Now with the one here, they can’t find anything.” Fishman also boasted that one of his products, a blood builder, had been given to a horse in New Jersey who was out-of-competition tested 12 hours later. The test sample was sent to a laboratory in Hong Kong, and the test came back negative. Rhein also revealed he had some contact with testing officials.”I mean, I know because I met the guy inadvertently when The Jockey Club took a box of the SGF,” he told Servis. “They took it and I met the guy, and I met the guy down at the conference, and he goes, ‘The Jockey Club.’ And he saw the hat that I had on was the same [equine pharmaceutical] company, and he goes, ‘Oh, man I just tested a box of that stuff.’ And I go, ‘What stuff?’ And he goes ‘MediVet. You’ve got a hat on—SGF. Yeah, Jockey Club sent it to me out in California. Yeah, it came back as just a bunch of collagen. Nothing interesting [unintelligible]. These guys think it’s got something that can be like a PED.” He goes, ‘There’s nothing in it.’ And he was the actual head of the testing lab.”
  • We got a few more details about the drugging of Maximum Security. Servis’ barn was the subject of at least two out-of-competition testing rounds in June 2019. on June 5, samples were pulled from Maximum Security, and test samples were pulled from other horses on June 3. Servis and assistant Henry Argueta (who was named on the original indictment but absent from the November 2020 superseding indictment) speculated that the commission may have been looking for clenbuterol administration outside of a prescription. Servis then called Rhein on June 5, seeming to seek reassurance that the out-of-competition test would be negative.
    Servis: Hey. So they’ve been doing some out-of-competition testing, which I have no problem with. Um, they took Maximum Security Monday and they came back again today. But Monday he got the KS. I just want to make sure we are all good with that.Rhein: Wait, what did he get?Servis: I’m sorry, I said “KS.” The, you know, your shot. The…

    Rhein: Oh, the SG.

    Servis: Yeah, that stuff.

    Rhein: Yeah—no, no, no. The Jockey Club tested it, and I met the guy who tested it way back when. It comes back as collagen. They don’t even have a test for it.

    Servis: It will probably come up with [dexamethasone] probably, right?

    Rhein: Yeah, that’s it. It will be dex. It will be dex. It will be like—that’s it. And I’ve had them, I had them pull some stuff, and I was like, “Oh, [expletive], I wonder what will happen?” Nothing. Nothing. I mean and the guy said SGF doesn’t even test close, thank god. But the only thing will be the AZM and you can just say he
    was like hives or something, but…

    Servis: Right. But they’re not even going to ask me about it.

    Rhein: They won’t, even.

    Servis: Because you’re allowed to have that anyways. Dex, I mean.

    Rhein: He’s allowed. He’s allowed. So [unintelligible] I don’t know. I’ve done it. I’ve had it tested. Jockey Club did it, and I’ve had at least three different times it’s been tested on horses that I gave it the day before and nothing. Not a word.

    Servis: Yup.

    Rhein: There’s no test for it in America. There’s no testing. There’s nothing.

    Servis: Okay, that’s fine.

The post What We Learned From New Wiretap Evidence In The Federal Drug Case appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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