Lawyer Says NYRA Hid Behind Client

Times Staff Writer

An attorney for one of two indicted New York Racing Assn. officials said Thursday that his client had been used as a “sacrificial lamb” as the association sought to avoid a criminal indictment.

The accusation came one day after Mario Sclafani, who worked as clerk of scales at NYRA-run Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct, and his assistant, Hall of Fame jockey Braulio Baeza, were indicted by a grand jury in upstate New York on charges of conspiring to misstate the weights of jockeys in dozens of races at the tracks last year.

“It’s no coincidence that the indictment of my client came on the heels of a possible indictment against NYRA,” said attorney Todd Greenberg, who represents Sclafani. “My client was a sacrificial lamb to placate the authorities who were after NYRA.”

The indictment says that several jockeys, including Jose Santos, Cornelio Velasquez and Robby Albarado, rode seven to 15 pounds heavier than what was reported to the betting public. A jockey more than five pounds over his assigned weight, depending on the conditions of the race, is not allowed to ride in a New York race.


Sclafani and Baeza, both of whom were fired within hours of the indictment, face maximum sentences of seven years if convicted. Sclafani pleaded not guilty Wednesday and Baeza’s arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 6.

Bill Nader, senior vice president at NYRA, discounted Greenberg’s contention.

“I can’t dignify what he said with a response,” Nader said. “It’s not worth a response.”

The possibility of a federal indictment against NYRA, stemming from a tax-evasion scandal involving mutuel clerks, was set aside on Sept. 13 after the association had satisfied a deferred-prosecution agreement.


The NYRA paid a $3-million fine.

Nader said that the July firing of Mike Lakow, a racing secretary who had been popular with horsemen, was not related to the investigation of Sclafani and Baeza.

“My client denies the charges, and I’m preparing to defend him,” Greenberg said.

Although the indictment does not say that Sclafani and Baeza took bribes, Sclafani said in court Wednesday that he would accept tips from jockeys at the end of race meets. Sclafani said that the tips were for nothing in particular, and not a quid pro quo for the alleged favors that he did for jockeys at the scales.

New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, who sought the indictment, is expected to attempt to prove that there was a link between the gratuities and the alleged weight advantages that the jockeys received.

“This is where the larceny part comes in,” Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for Spitzer’s office, said of the indictment. “The winning jockey of that Cigar Mile, for example, wouldn’t have been able to ride because of the overweight. Another jockey should have been entitled to compete for that money. One jockey got the money, another didn’t get the chance.”

The Cigar Mile, a $350,000 race at Aqueduct on Nov. 27, was won by Lion Tamer and ridden by Jose Santos, who earned an estimated $21,000 for his commission from the winner’s share of the purse.

Santos, who has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator along with jockeys Herb Castillo Jr., Ariel Smith, Albarado and Velasquez, declined to comment on Thursday. He told the New York Times on Wednesday that the accusations were “impossible.”


Also named in the New York indictment but not as co-conspirators are jockeys Aaron Gryder, Pablo Fragoso and Oscar Gomez. All eight are exempt from criminal prosecution, Spitzer said, but could face license sanctions by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. A spokesman for the board said Thursday that information regarding the case has been requested from Spitzer’s office.


The California Horse Racing Board Thursday approved the 2005-06 calendar at its meeting in Pomona.

The thoroughbred season starts with the meet at Santa Anita, Dec. 26 through April 23, 2006, followed by Hollywood Park, April 26-July 16; Del Mar, July 19-Sept. 6; Fairplex Park, Sept. 8-25; Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Sept. 27-Oct. 29; and Hollywood Park, Nov. 1-Dec. 18.

The quarter horse season at Los Alamitos will run from Dec. 26 through Dec. 17, 2006.