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Wednesday, January 19
Innocent pleas entered in gambling ring indictments




NEW YORK - A New York horse trainer and a harness racing driver were among 17 people who pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges that they fixed a race at Aqueduct as part of a gambling ring.

Trainer Gregory Martin and harness driver Rene Poulin entered their pleas in U.S. District Court, where they and 15 others were charged last week in an 88-count indictment after a federal investigation outlined a gambling operation that processed more than $200 million in bets over four years.

All were free on bail.

Martin and Poulin were charged with doping a horse with a performance-enhancing "milkshake" before a Dec. 18, 2003, race at Aqueduct. The horse, A One Rocket, won. If convicted, both men face up to 25 years in jail.

David Burns, a lawyer for Martin, said the charges related to "a conspiracy to dope one horse on one day." Martin, 37, is the son of Hall of Fame trainer Frank "Pancho" Martin.

David Applebaum, a bettor, was charged in the horse-doping conspiracy and 43 other counts, including gambling conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 259 years in prison.

Neal Hurwitz, a lawyer for Applebaum, said the charges related to sports gambling seemed unusual. "Apparently, we're the only country in the world who says this is illegal," he said.

The gambling ring is alleged to have operated in several states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida, California and Nevada, and on Curacao and the Isle of Man.

Martin, Poulin, and Gerald Uvari, a horse owner and reputed member of the Gambino organized crime family, had their licenses suspended last Friday by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

Martin has been ordered off the grounds by the New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. His horses will either be assigned to other trainers or removed from the New York tracks.

Also Tuesday, NYRA ended simulcast agreements with four betting sites named in the indictment: Euro Off-Track on the Isle of Man, International Racing Group, Inc., and Elite Turf Club, both in Curacao and Tonkawa Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. A fifth site, Racing Services, Inc., in Fargo, N.D., is under separate indictment and no longer operating.

"In addition to this immediate action, NYRA is undertaking an aggressive and expedited review of a number of selected secondary pari-mutuel organizations," NYRA president Charles Hayward said in a statement. "We will take decisive action in an ongoing effort to ensure that access to our par-mutuel pools passes the strictest test of transparency and integrity."

Uvari was charged with dozen of counts, including conspiracy, money laundering and wire fraud. His brother, Cesare, and his son, Anthony, also were charged.

The indictment claims the 67-year-old Uvari was the boss of "the Uvari Group," a conspiracy of 15 partners who operated an illegal sports gambling business that included betting on horses.

The defendants are accused of taking bets on horse racing and other sporting events as law enforcement authorities capped a two-year probe into the gambling operations.

The indictment also claims the Uvari group fixed the race at Aqueduct in 2003 by giving a Martin-trained horse a milkshake, federal prosecutors said.

A milkshake serves as a performance-enhancer. First, a garden hose is inserted in a horse's nose before a race to remove whatever is in the stomach. Then, a mixture of baking soda, sugar and liquid is inserted through the nose, which delays a horse's sense of fatigue. Because drugs are not involved, there are no problems passing a post-race drug test.

Hayward also said Tuesday that NYRA is developing a post-race test for milkshakes.

"Any violation to this new testing procedure will be met with stiff punishment," Hayward said of the tests that are scheduled to begin next month.

This is just the latest setback for NYRA. The association has been under the eye of monitors appointed by both state and federal authorities and has been steadily losing money. Also, NYRA suspended two officials last week in an investigation of jockey weigh-ins.

Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.



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