Fontaine: USTA chairman needs to be recalled, new election held

Former USTA chairman Paul Fontaine writes to HRU with some major concerns… and the current USTA chairman responds.

by Paul A. Fontaine

And so it was that our industry, led by the president and the Board of Directors of USTA, did it again. During its last meeting, just concluded, they stuck their collective heads in the sand and ignored taking a significant and strong stand, regarding acknowledging and severely punishing our cheaters. No proposals, no serious discussions, nothing, to lead our industry in the direction of severe punishment/banishment of these cheaters, and their complicit owners who supply them with the horses which are then abused with illicit drugging.

There would be no crooked trainers if owners who seek the easy and ill-gotten purse money would be suspended and or banned from the sport. There is no owner in this tough business today who can claim ignorance of what their trainers are doing. There is no one in this industry that is unaware of the reputation of crooked trainers. Does anyone really think that the likes of Banca, Oakes and Allard were just the greatest trainers on this earth? Absolutely not, yet they keep getting fed with horses by whom? The owners!

But when these cheaters get their just reward – Andrew Adams, Asst. U.S. Attorney stated there is “voluminous” evidence from one (1) years’ worth of wiretaps – the only people who will walk away from all this unscathed will be the owners who gave them horses to race.

The U.S.T.A. president writes a nice speech, example: “The U.S.T.A. Board of Directors – have conducted themselves with courage, with wisdom” etc., etc. Excuse me but I see no courage and no wisdom in side stepping the biggest problem our industry has faced for many years and that is our complete lack of integrity which has driven away our core supporters to the detriment of all those who participate in racing with honesty and hard work.

And what about Yonkers Raceway? Its top two trainers have been cheating their way to huge purse checks for themselves and their owners. Where is management in this debacle? Where is the vaunted and renowned horsemen’s association in all this? Oh, and by the way, the long standing president of this auspicious horsemen’s association is one of these owners who was choosing to have horses owned by him to be trained by the leading trainer at Yonkers, none other than Richard Banca.

And to compound this disgrace, that same owner was just elected chairman of the Board of U.S.T.A.! And some of the owners that fed Chris Oakes with horses are the so-called bright lights of our industry, high profile participants who cared less about his reputation as a cheater than they did about the purse money they pocketed.

I’ve owned race horses for over 50 years and none of the trainers I have used in all those years ever had a pimple on their record. I take no particular credit for that because it is simply as it should be for all of us. Furthermore, I spent 30 years as a U.S.T.A. director and served seven years as its chairman. Throughout all my years of service, I struggled to put integrity at the forefront of every meeting in every year. I was proud of attempting to champion that cause. Now, I’m ashamed of our leaders, who when faced with an opportunity to make a strong statement, to be brave and resolute showed us nothing but cowardice and disgrace.

[Now, allegedly] Richard Banca and Rene Allard have hired counsel to represent them in their criminal issues. Are they entitled to legal representation? Absolutely. The bigger question is should the newly minted chairman of the Board of Directors of USTA or his law firm be the one representing them?

What we have here is the clear perception that this industry is now being led by a horse owner who gave horses to Banca to train and who (or his firm) may now be representing the accused Banca. What kind of message does this send to USTA members and participants who wish for nothing more than a fair shot and a level playing field? Were the directors aware of this when they voted?

I call upon the USTA president to act immediately to recall the new chairman and call for a new election during which all directors will be made fully aware of the facts so that clear transparency will rule and the industry will then be assured that there is no conflict of interest between the chairman of the Board, his responsibility to USTA members and our industry.

Otherwise, the message will be clear: SORDID PERCEPTION AND INTEGRITY BE DAMNED.

Faraldo: Let’s set the record straight, Counselor

The following is a letter of response from USTA Chairman and SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo to the submission from horse owner Paul Fontaine in Harness Racing Update.

by Joe Faraldo

Mr. Fontaine:

First, let’s close down the nonsense about me and any invented conflict of interest involved in my recent election as USTA chairman that would affect my “responsibility to USTA members and our industry.”

What’s a “disgrace” is your implication and attempt to smear my reputation by suggesting that my “law firm” is representing one of the trainers recently “indicted.” Let’s be clear; my “firm” consists of me and only me as the sole practitioner. Further, my practice is exclusively limited to civil matters.

I’m not representing any of the accused, which as an attorney you could have easily ascertained with a little due diligence rather than making your reprehensible accusation against me.

And while we’re setting the record straight, the “voluminous” evidence stated by the Assistant U.S. Attorney refers to those indicted. The trainer associated with me that you cited was not included in the indictment.

Clearly, any owner who is an accomplice in any wrongdoing in this sport by his trainer or anyone else should be penalized.

But let us not forget the solution you advocated during your “30 years as a USTA director and seven years as its chairman,” when you proposed an owners’ responsibility rule that would have placed responsibility and penalties upon an owner whose trainer cheated regardless of any knowledge of or complicity on the owner’s part. That was wisely rejected.

Imagine a horse owner with a professional license as an attorney or a certified public accountant who would be penalized due to the actions of a trainer without any wrongdoing on his/her part. When reported to the administrative agency that administers his/her professional license, it could result in further disciplinary action significantly impacting that person’s ability to make a living in their profession. That risk would have driven owners out of our sport.

Additionally, your assertion that, “there would be no crooked trainers if owners who seek the easy and ill-gotten purse money would be suspended and or banned from the sport,” could easily lead to unfounded suspicions of cheating about any rule-abiding trainer who consistently performs better than his competitors. Without any evidence or validity, the risk of the owners’ responsibility rule penalties would cause them concern over their trainer’s success because of the underlying assumption that they might be doing something wrong.

And I’d like to refresh your memory of some serious trouble that one of your former trainers had in the past, yet I don’t recall you calling for any penalties under the provisions of an owners’ responsibility rule at the time.

I have horses with a variety of trainers ranked in the top 10 in the country. One of my trainers that you referenced was training two horses for me when the complaint against him was filed. And similar to the action you took with your trainer that got into trouble years ago, I’ve reconsidered the relationship with my trainer as a result of action taken against him. In both cases, our trainers were in good stead with all the various regulatory bodies. With my trainer, there was one suspension of seven days within the last nine years that involved a therapeutic medication.

Although the Assistant U.S. Attorney has stated that there is “voluminous” evidence in the indictments, as an attorney, you should recognize that all accused are entitled to a defense with the presumption of innocence and that total condemnation of the owners of all of the horses involved with the trainers indicted is a cheap shot at those owners.

For your information, the USTA was closely involved with the investigations leading to the indictments by providing requested documentation as well as significant background, operational and logistical information that assisted investigators.

As a former director, you should know that USTA has no regulatory, legal or enforcement authority in these matters so that your attack against the organization is as much nonsense as your accusations about me and your call for a new election.