Racehorse veterinarian pleads guilty in federal doping case

Dr. Louis Grasso, an equine veterinarian, pleaded guilty to his role in the distribution of drugs to enhance racehorse performance, according to a May 11 announcement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

According to the announcement, the charges in the case arise from an investigation of a group of racehorse trainers, veterinarians, distributors of performance-enhancing drugs, and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded drugs and to administer those drugs to racehorses at various levels of professional horseracing. By evading prohibitions on performance-enhancing drugs and deceiving regulators and horse racing officials, the group sought to improve race performance and obtain prize money from racetracks in New York state, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the United Arab Emirates.

Two racehorses in their stalls between races

Dr. Grasso pleaded guilty to accepting payment in exchange for prescriptions for performance-enhancing drugs and to creating, distributing, and administering custom-made performance-enhancing drugs that were all misbranded and adulterated substances designed solely to improve racehorse performance.

Dr. Seth Fishman, another equine veterinarian, was convicted at trial earlier this year in connection with the investigation. He was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit misbranding and drug adulteration in connection with the doping operation of convicted co-defendant Jorge Navarro, a horse trainer. Dr. Fishman was convicted of a second count of conspiracy to commit misbranding and drug adulteration in connection with the operation of his company, Equestology. Dr. Fishman’s sentencing has been delayed and may happen in June, according to a May 17 Paulick Report article.

Dr. Kristian Rhein, head veterinarian and owner of Empire Veterinary Group, pleaded guilty last August in connection with the investigation. According to court documents, he promoted, sold, and administered performance-enhancing drugs, including an illegally distributed prescription drug, clenbuterol, used as a bronchodilator, and SGF-1000, which was compounded in unregistered facilities and contained growth factors that the defendants knew to be undetectable through regular drug screens. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison. He also had to forfeit a little more than $1 million of the proceeds he generated from the illegal drug sales, and to further pay over $700,000 in restitution to the victims of his crimes.