Harness trainer Ross Cohen admits to fixing between five and 20 races by bribing drivers
The testimony came on Day 3 of Lisa Giannelli’s horse-doping trial in a New York.
by Robert Gearty
Day 1 coverage is here.
Day 2 of Lisa Giannelli’s horse-doping trial in a New York courtroom began Thursday (April 28) with opening statements and ended with testimony from an ex-harness trainer turned government cooperating witness.
“The defendant wasn’t just in the doping business, she was in the deception business,” prosecutor Benjamin Gianforti told the jury in U.S. District Court in New York.
But defense attorney Louis Fasulo countered by saying that his client couldn’t be found guilty because her actions lacked criminal intent.
“Intent,” he wrote in large letters on a computer screen for the jury of eight men and four women to read.
Fasulo said intent was the crux of the case. “What was Lisa Giannelli’s intent? Why did she do what she did?”
Giannelli is challenging the government’s evidence against her in a case growing out of the federal government’s crackdown on horse doping at racetracks across the country.
The defendants included the prominent trainer Jason Servis who faces trial in early 2023.
Giannelli is being tried on one count of conspiring to violate federal law prohibiting the adulteration or misbranding of drugs.
In his opening, Gianforti said that for more than two decades Giannelli distributed illegal performance enhancing drugs that corrupt trainers used to dope horses.
He said the drugs clearly violated racing regulations.
But that didn’t stop the cheaters, he said.
“Why? Because fast horses win money,” the prosecutor said.
Gianforti said the drugs Ginannelli sold were sought after because they were designed not to show up in post-race testing.
“Professional horse racing is highly competitive,” the prosecutor said. “Winning highly lucrative.”
Those create a huge temptation to cheat and defraud others, he said.
“That’s what doping amounts to — fraud,” he said.
Gianforti never mentioned by name a key figure: the veterinarian Seth Fishman who manufactured the drugs Giannelli sold at racetracks and training centers. Her customers were mostly harness trainers.
In February, Fishman was convicted of conspiracy.
Fasulo told the jury that Giannelli would testify that she did nothing wrong.
“She will tell you what she did and why she did it,” he said. “We’re not hiding from that.”
He told the jury that horse racing was a sport in its purest sense and “how it is manipulated goes to the people in the sport.”
He said the trial wasn’t about PEDs or horse racing or whether animals should be subjected to drugs. And he said it wasn’t about Fishman “with his own motives that he kept” from Giannelli.
“At no time did he tell her she was doing anything wrong in fulfilling his orders,” he said. “She was not the veterinarian; she was not the doctor.”
The cooperator was former New York harness trainer Ross Cohen, who took the stand after an FBI agent and an FBI photographer testified about law enforcement searches conducted at Giannelli’s home in Felton, DE in 2020 and at Fishman’s warehouse in Boca Raton, FL in 2019.
Cohen was arrested in 2020 during the government’s big takedown. He has since pleaded guilty as part of cooperation agreement with the government.
Cohen, 50, testified that he purchased performance enhancing bleeder pills from Giannelli when he was training horses in New York.
Under questioning from prosecutor Sarah Mortazavi, Cohen said Giannelli told him that he should give the pills to horses on the day of a race even though that would violate race regulations.
“She said they do not test for it at this time, but there was no guarantee they’d always not test,” he testified.
He said testability was important to him.
“I did not want to get suspended and fined and have the owners lose the purse money,” Cohen said.
Earlier in the day, prosecutors showed the jury a 2016 text that Giannelli sent to Fishman referring to Cohen.
“Propanthelene bromide? Ross Cohen is asking about it,” Giannelli wrote.
“Have but it tests,” Fishman replied.
Cohen testified the substance is a bronchodilator that increases a horse’s airways.
He told Mortazavi he didn’t remember talking to Giannelli about that.
His testimony resumes April 29.
Day 3 of Giannelli’s horse doping trial on Friday (April 29) featured the cross-examination of a key government witness.
Cohen had testified that Gianelli had sold him performance-enhancing drugs that he used to secretly dope horses under his care.
He agreed to cooperate with the government after his arrest in 2020 in connection with the FBI’s sweeping horse-doping probe.
The investigation led to charges against a number of individuals including the prominent trainer Jason Servis.
Under questioning by Fasulo in U.S., Cohen was asked about his cooperation agreement in which he admitted to fixing races years ago as well as to doping horses.
Fasulo wanted to know if that was his incentive for becoming a cooperator — to avoid being charged with bribery and facing substantially more punishment.
“My incentive was to try to make right for my wrongs and tell the truth,” Cohen said in response.
Under further questioning, he said it could have been an incentive but then wasn’t sure.
“I guess it could have been,” Cohen testified. “I don’t know if it was an incentive or not at the time.”
Giannelli is on trial for conspiring to distribute adulterated and misbranded performance-enhancing drugs which were intended to enhance the performance of horses competing at racetracks across the country.
She worked with Seth Fishman, a veterinarian found guilty in February of manufacturing PEDs that were purchased by trainers to dope horses. Prosecutors say Fishman’s drugs were designed to avoid post-race testing.
Fasulo told the jury that when Giannelli worked for Fishman out of her home in Delaware she didn’t do anything wrong because her actions didn’t involve criminal intent.
Cohen was reluctant to talk about his race-fixing past under Fasulo’s probing, part of an effort to damage Cohen’s credibility.
At first, Cohen testified he couldn’t remember how many races he fixed by bribing drivers to hold their horses back.
“It was more than five, I don’t think it was over 20,” he told the jury.
He also couldn’t remember how many drivers he paid off, then admitted, “maybe 10.”
When questioned by prosecutor Sarah Mortazavi, Cohen said his cooperation deal doesn’t prevent prosecutors from other jurisdictions from charging him with bribery.
He hasn’t been sentenced yet and said it would be up to the judge to determine his punishment.
The day concluded in the afternoon with the prosecution reading into the record portions of a witness’s testimony from the Fishman trial.
The witness was Courtney Adams who worked for Fishman as an office manager for five years. She was unavailable to testify against Giannelli.
In her testimony, Adams said that Giannelli helped with labeling Fishman products. Prosecutors contend some of those labels violated federal regulations.
“She would suggest edits so the client would know what the product was,” Adams said in her testimony.
During the reading, prosecutors also showed the jury a 2013 text in which Fishman said that Giannelli made over $250,000 in 2012.
During her cross-examination, which was also read into the record, Adams admitted to Fasulo that she didn’t know if that was true or not.
The trial resumes Monday.
HRU and the thoroughbred industry’s leading publications are working together to cover this key trial.