Rojas cleared of major charge but found guilty of 'misbranding' drugs
A Pennsylvania-based trainer has been found guilty of "misbranding" animal drugs and related conspiracy counts after a split verdict in a long-running, high-profile case involving alleged race-rigging at Penn National.
However, a federal jury on Friday cleared trainer Murray Rojas of the most serious charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which could have left her facing jail time.
The Rojas case was the only one to make it to trial from the series of race-rigging cases at Penn National, a relatively minor venue in Pennsylvania.
Rojas, 51, was charged with conspiring with unnamed vets to drug horses on raceday and then backdating invoices for the drugs to cover her tracks. She also submitted fraudulent vet reports to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, according to court documents.
The charges related to 11 races at Penn National between January 19 and February 16, 2013.
According to Equibase statistics, Rojas has trained a career total of 785 winners from nearly 4,800 runners for earnings of $11.8 million. She has never trained a Graded-stakes winner, and has not saddled a runner of any kind since 2015.
Rojas was aided by a legal defence fund established by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and she will remain free on bail in the interim.
"Trying to get federal jurisdiction on to something involving the racetrack, I considered that, from the first time I got involved in the case, to be improper and overreaching using federal statutes," Rojas's attorney, Robert Goldman, told thoroughbreddailynews.com, before adding he would be challenging the convictions on appeal.
"The type of activity they were looking at is the type of activity more properly dealt with by racing commissions and state government. The federal indictments in this case, I believe, were unprecedented."
On beating the wire fraud rap, Goldman said: "There's no doubt in my mind that if she had been convicted on the wire fraud they would have been pushing for incarceration to polish off their stars."
Goldman also praised his client's bravery, saying: "She is a remarkable woman. It came out during the case that the federal government was muscling people into pleading guilty.
"Murray had the fortitude to stand up and refuse to plead guilty to what she didn’t do. She was thrilled to be acquitted on the wire fraud charges. Of course, she is still disappointed that they convicted her on any federal offence."
Federal prosecutor William Behe told the Paulick Report: "I am thrilled with the jury's verdict in this case. The overwhelming majority of individuals involved in horseracing are honest and abide by the rules. The betting public expects that.
"When you are able to put together a case against individuals who systematically and repeatedly break the rules by drugging their horses, it should not be a verdict that causes concern in the racing community.
"It should be one they welcome with open arms because I am confident the majority of the racing community has no time for people like Rojas who abuse the rules and cheat to win."
The wide-reaching federal investigation at Penn National uncovered trainers doping horses in the middle of the night, vets drugging horses on raceday, a racing official taking money and gifts in exchange for inside information and a clocker submitting false workout times.