Horse-doping suspects fined and suspendedTrainer, aides, veterinarian also facing criminal charges
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 04/13/06
BY BOB JORDAN
State regulators Wednesday imposed a total of 44 years in suspensions and levied fines totaling $51,500 on prominent harness racing horseman Eric Ledford and four associates, based on findings from a Millstone Township barn raid and New Jersey State Police investigation that led to criminal race-fixing charges.
Ledford, the winning driver in Freehold Raceway's prestigious Cane Pace stakes race last September, received a 10 1/2-year suspension and was fined $12,000 by the state Racing Commission. His father, Seldon, received identical penalties. The ruling states that the pair cannot be eligible for a racing license again until 2016.
Attorneys said they are considering appeals.
"The length of the suspension is unconscionable," said Howard Taylor, attorney for Eric Ledford, 34, a resident of Monroe. "I sat for two days of testimony at the hearing, and I didn't hear one thing that would link Eric Ledford to a conspiracy or anything wrong."
Timothy M. Donohue, who represents Seldon Ledford, 58, of Crete, Ill., said his client "is confident that he will be completely exonerated once he receives a fair hearing before impartial judges who are not paid employees of the Racing Commission. While he's disappointed in this ruling, Mr. Ledford's primary concern is for his son Eric and his (stable employees)."
The March 31 raid by the State Police at the Ledford barn at Showplace Farms included a sweep at the home of two stable employees that uncovered banned blood-doping drugs stowed "all over the house" and in a garage refrigerator, an investigator testified during the regulatory hearing that took place at Freehold Raceway last week.
The three-judge panel said Eric Ledford "was directly involved with the training, management and other business matters relating to the Ledford Stable."
The judges found that Ledford accepted "a performance-enhancing prohibited substance that is not approved for use in horses, specifically Aranesp, a brand of Erythropietin, from a licensed veterinarian."
The veterinarian, John R. Witmer of Freehold Township, was punished with a suspension of seven years and a $7,500 fine. The suspension means he cannot work at racetracks or with racehorses.
Witmer failed to "protect and safeguard all horses under his care, custody and control," the ruling states.
Erythropietin, also known as EPO, has side effects that can harm horses, authorities said after the raids. Results of a necropsy on a dead horse, Malomar Man, found at the Ledford stable during the raid, are awaited. Illinois horse racing regulators are investigating the recent deaths of two other horses in the Ledford stable there.
Stable employees Ryan and Ardena Dailey, who are married and live in East Windsor, were each given eight-year suspensions and $10,000 fines, primarily because they were found to have been in possession of devices and injectable foreign substances in violation of Racing Commission rules and they failed to cooperate in the investigation.
Authorities have also suspended the stable's horses from racing in New Jersey.
The State Police allege Ledford was cheating with his horses at the Meadowlands Racetrack and Freehold Raceway — relying on the Aranesp — and that he led a conspiracy to rig races.
The relation between the raid findings and how the drugs may have enhanced the performance of horses was not part of the evidence offered during last week's hearing.
Seldon Ledford is the only one of the group who is not criminally charged, but authorities said the investigation is continuing.
State Police Detective Sgt. Brice Cote told hearing officer John Tomasello and the other judges that the searches netted substantial quantities of Aranesp. Troopers also seized various injectable foreign substances that were not labeled or identified, hypodermic needles and syringes from the stable.
Cote also said a Ford sport-utility vehicle parked in front of the Daileys' house contained a shock-wave therapy machine, and an electric cattle prod was also recovered.
But Cote refused to disclose many details about the investigators' preraid findings or how other evidence was obtained, saying it could compromise the criminal investigation.
Attorneys for the accused horsemen and Witmer argued there should not be regulatory sanctions until those details are provided.
"The odd thing about this case is the lack of proof that has been provided about the people charged," Donohue said Wednesday.
Eric Ledford was not the subject of any of the hearing evidence, his attorney said.
"It was, "We have information but we can't say what it is yet.' I'm in shock and I'm disappointed and I'm also a little angry," Taylor said.
Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, said the punished horsemen and veterinarian can request the Racing Commission's executive director, Frank Zanzuccki, to issue a stay of the imposed penalties, pending a formal appeal.
An appeal will refer the matter to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing, and that office can render a decision that the Racing Commission can adopt, reject or modify, Loriquet said. The determination at that point can be brought to the Appellate Division, he said.http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060413/NEWS/604130372