by Robert Gearty
Jason Servis, for years one of the top thoroughbred trainers in the country, pleaded guilty in a New York courtroom Dec. 9 to resolve charges arising from the government’s sweeping investigation into horse doping at racetracks across the country.
Servis, 65, faces four years in prison when he is sentenced May 18, 2023, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Servis was one of 31 defendants in the case, which garnered national headlines when prosecutors announced indictments nearly three years ago and cast a black eye on the racing industry.
They had been charged with doping horses with various performance-enhancing drugs that were undetectable by racing regulators. Prosecutors said the use of PEDs by greedy trainers corrupted the sport, cheated the betting public, and endangered horses who were asked to perform beyond their natural capabilities.
Servis was the latest defendant facing charges.
He pleaded guilty in connection with his role in the distribution of adulterated and misbranded drugs intended for administration on racehorses he trained.
“Servis’ conduct represents corruption at the highest levels of the racehorse industry,” Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a release. “As a licensed racehorse trainer, Servis was bound to protect the horses under his care and to comply with racing rules designed to ensure the safety and well-being of horses and protect the integrity of the sport.”
Williams added: “Servis abdicated his responsibilities to the animals, to regulators, and to the public. This latest conviction demonstrates the commitment of this Office and of our partners at the FBI to the prosecution and investigation of corruption, fraud, deceit, and endangerment in the racehorse industry.”
“Guilty,” Servis said, as he admitted to a new felony charge of misbranding and adulterating a chemical substance described by prosecutors as similar to the bronchodilator clenbuterol but stronger.
“Guilty,” he said, admitting to another new charge, a misdemeanor, of misbranding and adulterating a compound chemical called SGF-1000.
Servis had been scheduled to go on trial next month on two counts — conspiracy to misbrand and adulterate performance-enhancing drugs and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He would have faced 25 years in prison on those two counts if convicted.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to dismiss those charges and bring new ones.
Also, as part of the plea deal, Servis agreed to forfeit $311,760 and to pay restitution in the amount of $163,932.
Servis showed up in court in a sports jacket and tie. Racing authorities suspended his trainer’s license after his arrest in March 2020.
At the time of his arrest, prosecutors accused Servis of administering adulterated and misbranded PEDS, including SGF-1000, to “virtually all of the racehorses under his control.”
Those horses included Maximum Security, who finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade 1), but was disqualified for interference during the running of the race.
Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil brought up Maximum Security’s name during a portion of the proceeding that required Servis to admit his guilt by allocuting to the charges.
At that point, Servis attorney Rita Glavin interjected to say that, yes, her client would admit that Maximum Security had been administered SGF-1000 by a veterinarian for his barn.
Glavin also objected when Vyskocil asked Servis if he was challenging the fact that Maximum Security finished first in the overseas $20 million Saudi Cup in the Middle East in February 2020, a month before his arrest.
After a brief back and forth, Servis conceded that fact.
He also told Vyskocil that he would not challenge other statements to other facts in the plea agreement.
For instance, he conceded that he continued using SGF-1000 after New York regulators put out an advisory in September 2019 saying that SGF-1000 was a prohibited substance.
He also conceded that SGF-1000 cost $300 a bottle and that vet bills sent to owners disguised the use of SGF-1000 on his horses as “acupuncture and chiropractic.”
In the case of the clenbuterol-like substance, Servis admitted that on May 8, 2019, he shipped it from his barn at Monmouth to Belmont and hid it in a soda bottle concealed in a bucket of poultice, an herbal anti-inflammatory paste.
In court papers, Glavin argued that Servis was not guilty of the charges against him because prosecutors lacked evidence that SGF-1000 was performance-enhancing or contained growth factors. These considerations would make it a PED.
She also argued that none of Servis’ horses ever tested positive for clenbuterol misuse.
On Friday, Glavin told Vyskocil that she planned to argue before the sentencing that Servis had been repeatedly told by his vet that SGF-1000 was legal to use.
The plea agreement states that Servis’ vet repeatedly assured the trainer that SGF-1000 was “legal and not violative of racing rules as reflected in intercepted calls in June and August of 2019.”
Prosecutors argued in court papers that those who marketed SGF-1000 didn’t understand what it was other than that it was undetectable in tests conducted by racing regulators.
They also contend that SGF-1000 does contain growth factors of a variety that were intentionally difficult to detect.
Williams said Servis ordered hundreds of bottles of the drug “SGF-1000,” which was compounded and manufactured in unregistered facilities.
He said Servis obtained the misbranded version of clenbuterol from convicted co-defendant New Jersey trainer Jorge Navarro. He is serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty a year ago.
With Servis’ plea, 23 of the 31 individuals charged have pleaded guilty. Two were convicted after trial, and two were offered deferred prosecution agreements.
The defendants included 11 thoroughbred and standardbred trainers and seven veterinarians.