12/11/2014 1:19PM

Man pleads guilty to bribing college athletes, jockey

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A Detroit man accused of bribing college athletes and a jockey who rode briefly in the United States pleaded guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to fix races, in a case that has touched on the careers of several riders.

Ghazi Manni, 57, admitted in U.S. District Court in Detroit on Tuesday that he paid bribes to players at the University of Toledo to shave points in basketball and football games from 2004-06. He also admitted to paying bribes to a jockey, Ricardo Valdes, to hold horses in four races at Tampa Bay Downs and Delaware Park during those same years. Valdes left the United States in 2006, several years before the indictment was released, and his whereabouts are unknown, according to officials.

Although the indictment against Manni and others associated with the scheme was not unsealed until 2009, an investigation into some of the allegations in the indictment had been launched years earlier by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, a private investigative agency owned by tracks. As a result of the TRPB probe, Tampa Bay Downs banned seven jockeys, including Valdes, in late 2006, under the suspicion that the jockeys had held horses in races at Great Lakes Downs in Michigan.

Other than Valdes, none of the jockeys was ever charged by authorities, though some tracks, including Arlington Park, temporarily barred several of the jockeys as a result of the Tampa Bay Downs bans. Over the years, most of the affected riders either left racing or received licenses to ride in other jurisdictions, although one jurisdiction, Kentucky, has declined to approve a racing application from Terry Houghton, one of the jockeys banned at Tampa Bay Downs, even though he has filed license applications.

Marc Guilfoil, the deputy director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said Thursday that the KHRC was scheduled to hold a licensing review hearing for Houghton in January. However, with the case involving Manni now closed, Houghton’s license likely will be reconsidered for approval this year, following discussions with the U.S. attorney’s office that brought the case, Guilfoil said.

In the case of Manni, seven former college players have pleaded guilty, along with Manni’s partner, Mitchell Karam. None has been sentenced.