Sports Law Case Study
In the fall of 2005, the New York State Attorney General brought a 291-count indictment against Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani involving the alleged riding of thoroughbred horses by overweight jockeys at New York State Racing Association (NYRA) operated horseracing courses from June through December 2004. Mario Sclafani, the NYRA clerk of scales, and his assistant clerk, Braulio Baeza, were the central focus of the case as they were the clerks of scales involved in the weighing of jockeys before and after each questioned race. The prosecution claimed that Sclafani and Baeza conspired with the noted jockeys to allow them to ride seven to fifteen pounds over their stated riding weights. Both men were fired by NYRA once the indictments became public.
DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian represented Baeza, a Hall-of-Fame former jockey, and Todd Greenberg, Esq., from the firm Addabbo and Greenberg in New York City, represented Sclafani during this case. Both clerks faced a maximum of seven years in prison if found guilty of charges of conspiracy, scheming to defraud, tampering with a sports contest, falsifying business records, and larceny. The case was presented in front of Judge Jerry Scarano in Saratoga County Court.
Some of the races questioned took place at the famous Saratoga Race Course, not far from the DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian office. The team at DerOhannesian zeroed in on flaws in the prosecution’s investigation and case. For example, on average, a jockey will weigh three to seven pounds more after a race than before it due to added weight from safety and riding equipment, mud, sweat and water. Racing officials stated that the clerk of scales typically subtracts the weight of safety equipment before and after a race from the official weight and will many times give allowances for dirt, water or sweat that a jockey and his equipment pick up during a race. Jockeys also typically carry more equipment to the scales after the race than before. It was questioned if the investigation made allowances for this added weight. The DerOhannesian investigation uncovered that the jockeys mentioned in this case were weighed at other tracks outside New York during the same time period where Baeza and Sclafani were not in charge and the recorded weights at those tracks were not examined by the prosecution. Many jockeys maintain a riding weight near 115 pounds, and a seven to fifteen pound gain, as alleged by the prosecution, would have been very noticeable. Through careful examination of voluminous investigative notes and records, the investigators had data which, if true, meant jockeys were gaining or losing 10-15 pounds within a few hours during the same race day. Horse owners are allowed to replace the jockey if the jockey is more than one pound over his stated riding weight, and the owner, or anyone else, would have noticed such an extreme weight fluctuation on such a small body frame. Baeza’s strong standing in the racing community also helped to bolster the defense. DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian made these inconsistencies and flawed investigative data apparent to the court, and claimed that the prosecution’s limited knowledge of horseracing procedures led it to make hasty conclusions about the defendants.
After hearing the flaws and inaccuracies in the case, the result was a dismissal of all 291 charges against Sclafani and Baeza by Judge Scarano after the prosecution’s presentation of their case, a rare event in trial. This was a major victory for DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian both professionally and personally, as the firm has close ties with the Saratoga community.