09/23/2003 11:00PM

Lesser role mulled for Meyocks

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NEW YORK - The board of directors of the New York Racing Association was expected on Wednesday to consider a proposal to remove significant responsibilities from Terry Meyocks, the association's president and chief operating officer, according to members of the NYRA board.

The consideration is being prompted by a cascade of problems that has swamped NYRA since early summer, when the New York Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, released a report that was sharply critical of NYRA's management practices. The report singled out Meyocks for failing to exercise adequate oversight of the association's mutuel room, cash handling policies, and other security procedures.

NYRA board members and top officials did not return phone calls late Wednesday afternoon. But several board members said before the meeting that Meyocks's current position at the association was in jeopardy.

"These problems have been building for some time," one board member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Meyocks declined to comment on Wednesday, except to say, "Everything will work itself out."

The board was expected to consider a proposal to move Meyocks into a position in which he would be responsible solely for NYRA's racing operations. A new position would be created to oversee NYRA's mutuel room and administrative functions, the board members said.

Meyocks, 52, has been president of NYRA since late 1996, earning a salary of $375,000 per year. He joined NYRA in 1993 as the vice president of racing after running the racing offices at Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park in Florida. Meyocks had been groomed for his position in upper management by Kenny Noe, a former president and chairman of NYRA who helped Meyocks get started in the racing industry.

Meyocks was highly popular among horsemen and owners, and calls for his removal by the New York attorney general and others had met with staunch resistance from the racing community and, initially, the NYRA board.

According to board members, pressure to remove Meyocks has built all summer as NYRA faced an unrelenting series of attacks from Spitzer, federal investigators, and the New York State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, who released a report last week alleging that NYRA was poorly managed and had miscalculated its financial obligations to the state over the past two years by $12 million.

Over the past several weeks, the board's five-member oversight committee had become increasingly concerned about the allegations, according to one board member. The committee was influenced by damage to other corporate boards in the recent scandals on Wall Street, the board member said. One example cited was the furor created by the pay package awarded to Richard Grasso, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. The NYRA committee was searching for a way to avoid further scrutiny.

The board meeting Wednesday was scheduled to address the concerns raised by the reports, according to the board members, who said that an agenda was not distributed before the meeting.

Spitzer's report, which chronicled the results of several investigations conducted at NYRA since 2000, cited the convictions of 19 mutuel tellers at NYRA for tax fraud and money laundering. The report concluded that NYRA's management had failed to provide proper oversight and that Meyocks should ultimately be held responsible. The report said that the board should replace Meyocks with a "person with impeccable credentials and unquestioned integrity."

"This individual should be vested by the board with the authority to make sweeping personnel changes and design a new, more accountable NYRA," the report said. "This person should have experience beyond the tight-knit world of horse racing and be committed to implementing best practices in financial management, auditing, and security."

After Spitzer's report was released, reports surfaced that federal prosecutors were considering indictments against top NYRA officials in connection with the income-tax fraud schemes. It is still unclear if Spitzer's report preceded the involvement of federal investigators, or if the federal attorney's office began considering the indictments after reading the report.

- additional reporting by David Grening