09/21/2005 12:00AM

Two indicted over jockeys' weights


Mario Sclafani, the former clerk of scales for the New York Racing Association, and Braulio Baeza, his former assistant, were indicted on Wednesday by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer on 291 counts of conspiracy, tampering with a sports contest, falsifying business records, and grand larceny for allegedly allowing jockeys to ride at weights higher than their assigned weights in 67 races during the last six months of 2004.

The indictment, which was brought by a grand jury in Saratoga County, said that Sclafani and Baeza "fraudulently and collusively failed to report overweight jockeys to the owners and bettors [and] made false entries in the business records of the New York Racing Association."

Sclafani pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in Saratoga County Court. Baeza, a former rider who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976, will be arraigned on Oct. 6, the attorney general said, at the request of Baeza's attorney, Michael Aronow. Both men face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Sclafani's attorney, Todd Greenberg, did not return a phone call on Wednesday. Baeza did not return a phone call to his home, and Aronow could not be reached.

In a statement released with the indictment, Spitzer said that Sclafani and Baeza "had one job to do and that was to ensure that the weight of the jockeys was recorded accurately and disclosed to bettors. Instead, they misled the public and compromised the integrity of races run by NYRA."

Paul Larabee, a spokesman for Spitzer, said that of the 67 races, 10 were stakes races run in New York from June 23 to Dec. 15, 2004, including the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile. Lion Tamer, whose assigned weight was 113 pounds, won the Cigar Mile under Jose Santos. Four Grade 2 races were referenced, Larabee said, including the Bowling Green Handicap, Saratoga Breeders' Cup, Long Island Handicap, and Top Flight Handicap. In five of the 67 races, the horses carrying more than their assigned weight won, and in 15 races, horses carrying the overweight finished last, Larabee said.

The indictment does not accuse Sclafani or Baeza of betting on races in which the weights were allegedly misreported. Larabee said that prosecutors did not plan to charge Sclafani and Baeza with benefiting financially. He said that prosecutors could not comment on what evidence they had to prove that the weights were misrepresented.

"That will all come out in the trial," Larabee said.

Five jockeys - Robby Albarado, Heberto Castillo Jr., Santos, Ariel Smith, and Cornelio Velasquez - were named in the indictment for riding overweight, but none of the jockeys was indicted. Larabee said that the riders were not charged because their actions did not fit a definition of a conspiracy, which requires the acts to be "repeated and persistent." Spitzer said that the indictment was being forwarded to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for possible disciplinary action against the riders.

According to the latest NYRA condition book, Albarado claimed a riding weight of 115 pounds, Castillo 116, Santos 116, and Velasquez 115. Records for Smith, who has been riding at Calder, were not available on Wednesday, a dark day at Calder.

NYRA suspended Sclafani and Baeza without pay in mid-January, a month after investigators from the attorney general's office seized hundreds of records at the the three tracks NYRA operates - Belmont Park, Aqueduct, and Saratoga Race Course. NYRA officials have said that they tipped off investigators to the possibility that Sclafani and Baeza were overlooking jockeys who were riding over the assigned weight and that their own internal security personnel initiated the investigation.

On Wednesday, NYRA officials said that Sclafani and Baeza had been fired.

Bill Nader, a senior vice president at NYRA, said that the association had not determined whether it would take action against the riders mentioned in the indictment.

"We're still in an information-gathering stage," Nader said. "We knew about the investigation, because we had started it, but we were really caught by surprise by these riders being in there."

The indictment said that Sclafani and Baeza allowed the jockeys to ride at least seven pounds overweight and sometimes as much as 15 pounds overweight. Under New York racing rules, any jockey who is five pounds over the assigned weight cannot ride. The indictment did not give specific overweights for any one race.

Richard DePass, the jockey agent for Velasquez, vehemently denied that Velasquez had ridden as much as seven pounds overweight.

"He rides at 114 pounds," DePass said. "He could maybe be one or two pounds overweight. But seven pounds? I'm telling you that's impossible."

Lenny Pike, the agent for Albarado, said Albarado was unavailable for comment until Saturday, when he returns from a vacation with his family in Hawaii. Pike said that Albarado's riding weight has fluctuated between 114 and 116 pounds over the 10 years that he has represented him and that it would be "impossible" for him to be seven pounds overweight.

Pike said that Albarado had met with investigators from Spitzer's office in August in Saratoga. "I know they contacted him," Pike said. "But you can also say this: I know he's not worried about anything."

Castillo Jr. and Santos did not respond to requests for comment. Smith could not be reached on Wednesday.

Typically, riders are weighed after they leave the jockeys' room and before they mount their horses. The clerk of scales notes the weight on a sheet, and after the races, jockeys are weighed again at the same scale. The sheet marking the weights is then filed with the racing office.

If a jockey is at least one pound over the assigned weight, the overweight must be announced. If a jockey weighs more than two pounds over the assigned weight but fewer than five pounds, an owner can replace the rider. If the jockey is five pounds over, the jockey cannot ride.

The indictment was released eight days after a federal monitoring firm, Getnick and Getnick, recommended that tax-fraud charges against NYRA - related to cash policies in NYRA's mutuel department - be dropped. The firm was appointed in January 2004 to monitor NYRA's operations for 18 months as part of a deferred-prosecution agreement that required NYRA to reform its practices and pay a $3 million fine. The monitor reported to Alan Hevesi, the New York state comptroller, who has been sharply critical of NYRA management. In a statement on Wednesday, Hevesi credited NYRA's management with bringing the overweight allegations to the attention of Spitzer's office.