The Consequences of Doping in Horse Racing

Oct 7, 2022

By John T. Wendt, J.D., M.A., Professor Emeritus, Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas

Seth Fishman is a veterinarian and entrepreneur who operated a number of equine businesses including Equestology, Camelology, Equi-Tech and who was accused of making and distributing illegal substances at the center of a massive horse racing doping scandal.[1] 

On February 2, 2022, in perhaps the penultimate case arising from the massive investigation of horse racing doping schemes in the federal case, United States vNavarro, 20 Cr. 160 (MKV), Fishman was convicted of two counts of drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracies.[2]  The first count dealt with his doping operation with convicted horse trainer Jorge Navarro and the second count dealt with Fishman’s operation of his company Equestology. [3]   On May 6, 2022, Fishman’s former assistant at Equestology Lisa Giannelli was also convicted of conspiracy to misbrand and adulterate drugs.[4]  Fishman and Giannelli are the only ones to go to trial from thirty-one people indicted on doping charges in 2020.

The seriousness of these convictions was seen in their sentencing.  On July 11, 2022, Fishman was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the longest sentence given in these indictments.  Fishman was also ordered to pay a money judgment in excess of $13.5 million.[5]  Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil went noted that Fishman was also jointly and severally liable with co-conspirator Jorge Navarro for restitution in excess of $25 million.[6] 

At sentencing Fishman appeared to be remorseful saying, “I really have to apologize for what I did…There’s no excuse for my behavior.” [7]  Fishman went on to say, “I should have never pushed the envelope and helped trainers” and that he now lacked any desire to “practice medicine” on animals, and that he had “no desire to make another substance for a racehorse again”[8]  Surprisingly Fishman then told the judge that, whatever sentence she imposed, “10, 15, or 20 years, I just want to be a better person.”[9]

Vyskocil told Fishman, “You misled competitors of your clients and the betting public… (and as a veterinarian) you enjoyed a special position of trust and you abused that trust.”[10]  Vyskocil also noted that Fishman not only put the racehorses that were drugged at risk, but so too were other horses and jockeys who were competing in those races.  Simply put Vyskocil said, “To say there was no risk to horses is just not accurate…”[11] 

Vyskocil said that Fishman’s actions were driven by greed and that up until that moment he had not shown any remorse, and that, “I know this case has been followed extensively in the racing industry…It is my hope that the sentence acts as a general deterrent to those who might be engaging in the same scourge of criminality.”[12]  Fishman’s attorney had asked for a leniency because of his client’s substantial psychiatric disabilities, including a bipolar disorder.  Vyskocil ended the hearing by noting that she heard Fishman’s pleas and that, “Hopefully, you’ll be getting well…You do have some demons.”[13]

After sentencing Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York said, “The sentence today sends a strong message that those looking to profit from the sale of illegal drugs intended to corruptly dope racehorses stand to face serious consequences for their crimes.  The defendant earned his livelihood in service of greed and animal abuse, and will face a steep price for his crimes.”[14]

Yet soon after the apologies and saying that no matter what the sentence was, he just wanted to become a better person, Seth Fishman appealed his case, both his conviction and sentencing, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.[15]

Meanwhile on September 8, 2022, Fishman’s associate Lisa Giannelli[16] was sentenced to 42 months (3½ years) in prison for her role in the doping conspiracy.  Giannelli was also ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 and to forfeit $900,000.[17]  Federal officials had asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 60 months in prison[18] while Giannelli’s attorneys asked for probation instead of imprisonment.[19]  Giannelli said, “It was never my intention to break the law…It was never my intention to hurt anyone or to hurt any animal…Everything in my world now is upside down.  At this point I wish I had never met Fishman.  I thought I was doing good…I never knew it was not legal.”[20]

Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil disagreed and said that, “This was not a one-time thing.  For 18 years, Ms. Giannelli marketed and sold what she knew were illegal and powerful performance-enhancing drugs.”[21]  Yet, in determining the sentence, Vyskocil said that she considered Giannelli’s character, background and the 50 plus letters of support from Giannelli’s family, friends and supporters.  Vyskocil stressed that, “The letters all reflect that you are a kind person, and have a passion to make things better…I do believe you are a good person. You have your whole life ahead of you.” [22]

In response to the sentencing, in a similar vein to comments about Seth Fishman, US Attorney Damian Williams said, “For years, Giannelli catered to corrupt racehorse trainers by selling illegal performance-enhancing drugs designed to deceive the very people who could put a stop to these crimes.  Today’s sentence sends a message that those who engage in fraud and animal abuse will be held to account.”[23]

At this time, the only other remaining cases that are heading toward trial are for New York veterinarian Alexander Chan and prominent trainer Jason Servis which are scheduled for January 2023.  Servis was the trainer for the horse Maximum Security who finished first at the Kentucky Derby but was later disqualified for interference.  Servis was among the individuals initially charged with drug adulteration and misbranding and was also named in a superseding indictment on November 6, 2020.  The superseding indictment included four charges of drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy as well as one count of mail and wire fraud.[24]

These cases all stem back to March 9, 2020, the day that US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman  announced the massive sweep of indictments saying, “These defendants engaged in this conduct not for the love of the sport, and certainly not out of concern for the horses, but for money.  And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendant’s greed.  The care and respect due to the animals competing, as well as the integrity of racing, are matters of deep concern to the people of this district and to this office.”[25]  Also in 2020 Congress passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HR 1754, S 4547) “to improve the integrity and safety of horseracing by requiring a uniform anti-doping and medication control program.”[26]  Hopefully, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) which is now charged with tackling the problem of doping in horseracing and safety will be willing and up to the task.  HISA is just starting and right now is a work in progress.  One can only hope that they can succeed.

[1] See John Wendt, Tightening the Reins on Doping in Horseracing, (2022),

[2] United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, Horse Doping Drug Supplier Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court, (2022), (last visited Feb 2, 2022).

[3] United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, Horse Doping Drug Supplier Sentenced To 11 Years In Prison, (2022), (last visited Jul 19, 2022).  .

[4] United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, Horse Doping Drug Seller Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court, (2022), (last visited Sep 6, 2022).

[5] United States v. Fishman, Preliminary Order of Forfeiture Money Judgment, S6 20 Cr. 160 (MKV), 1 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 12, 2022), (last visited Jul 24, 2022).

[6] United States of America v. Fishman, Order of Restitution, S6 20 Cr. 160 (MKV), 1-2 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 12, 2022), (last visited Jul 24, 2022).

[7] Robert Gearty, Seth Fishman Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison, Thoroughbred Daily News (2022), (last visited Jul 19, 2022).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, supra note 3.

[15] Paulick Report, Fishman Files Appeal Of Conviction, 11-Year Sentence, (2022), (last visited Jul 24, 2022).

[16] John Wendt, Horse Doping Drug Supplier Convicted in Manhattan Federal Court, (2022), (last visited Aug 31, 2022).

[17] Robert Gearty, Giannelli Gets Three and a Half Years in Prison, (2022), (last visited Sep 13, 2022).

[18] Renee Hickman, Gov’t Wants Max Sentence For Convicted Horse PED Seller, (2022), (last visited Sep 6, 2022).

[19] Ivan Moreno, Convicted Seller Of Racehorse PEDs Asks For No Prison, (2022), (last visited Sep 8, 2022).

[20] Robert Gearty, “I Wish I Had Never Met Fishman”: Giannelli Gets 3 1/2-Year Prison Sentence In Federal Doping Probe – Horse Racing News | Paulick Report, (2022), (last visited Sep 8, 2022).

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, Horse Doping Seller Sentenced To 42 Months In Manhattan Federal Court, (2022), (last visited Sep 8, 2022).

[24] Natalie Voss, Superseding Indictment Alleges Navarro And Servis Doping Programs Stretch Back To 2016 – Horse Racing News | Paulick Report, (2020), (last visited Sep 13, 2022).

[25] Charles Hayward, If we don’t clean up our act, we won’t have a sport, (2022), (last visited Sep 14, 2022).

[26] Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, HR 1754, 116th Cong. (2019 – 2020), (last visited Sep 14, 2022).

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