Unsealed Documents Show Surick Guilty Plea, Agreement To Cooperate In Federal Probe - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Unsealed Documents Show Surick Guilty Plea, Agreement To Cooperate In Federal Probe

Recently unsealed court documents show that Standardbred trainer Nicholas Surick pleaded guilty to multiple charges in October 2020 as part of a cooperating agreement with the Southern District of New York in its federal probe into horse doping.

Surick faced up to 30 years imprisonment if found guilty on drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy and obstruction charges brought against him. In a video appearance in front of U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil on Oct. 19, 2020, Surick agreed to a waiver of indictment and pleaded guilty to an information charge of two counts of conspiracy and one count for obstruction. That agreement and plea were sealed by the court until recently, as was the transcript of the proceeding.

“Do you understand that the agreement provides that you must cooperate fully with the Office of the United States Attorney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and any other law enforcement agency designated by the United States Attorney?” Vyskocil asked Surick.

“Yes, your honor,” Surick replied.

Vyskocil then told Surick that “if you fully comply with the understandings in the agreement and cooperate with the government,” the U.S. attorney will not prosecute Surick for his participation in conspiracies to misbrand or adulterate performance-enhancing drugs in racehorses or for his actions related to obstructing a federal investigation into doping a horse named Northern Virgin.

Surick was reminded by Vyskocil that the aforementioned actions, called “relevant conduct,” can be considered for purposes of sentencing related to his guilty pleas.

The unsealed information charge covers many of the activities revealed in a March 2020 indictment against Surick and 18 others, many of whom have pleaded guilty (including trainer Jorge Navarro and veterinarian Kristian Rhein) or convicted by a jury (veterinarian/supplier Seth Fishman and his employee Lisa Giannelli). A superseding indictment, issued in November 2020 – the month after Surick's guilty plea and agreement to cooperate – did not list Surick among those charged.

The charge states that Surick, who is also a Thoroughbred owner, engaged in illegal drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy with the intent to defraud and mislead  from 2016 until March 2020. Jorge Navarro was the recipient of some of the misbranded drugs, including a customized anti-inflammatory known as “red acid.” A second conspiracy count states that Surick directed veterinarians  to administer misbranded drugs and specifically refers to the blood-doping of a horse named Northern Virgin by a trainer in Ohio prior to the horse's race in New York.

Northern Virgin is also the focus of the obstruction charge against Surick, who became aware that he was the subject of an investigation by the New Jersey Racing Commission and the FBI. In December 2018, Surick directed the horse to be moved out of state in an attempt to avoid New Jersey officials from administering an out of competition drug test and then told others to lie about the dates and the reason the horse was moved. It was then that Surick began using encrypted communication tools like WhatsApp to avoid being traced and telling others in his circle to do the same.

Despite those efforts, officials were able to record conversations between Surick and others, including Navarro. They also tracked down Northern Virgin before the horse was shipped to Ohio and drew blood samples that court records say detected the blood-doping agent EPO.

One of the calls the FBI intercepted was between Surick and indicted Thoroughbred trainer Michael Tannuzzo, discussing Navarro.

“You know how many f—ing horses he (Navarro) f—ing killed and broke down that I made disappear,” Surick told Tannuzzo. “You know how much trouble he could get in … if they found out … the six horses we killed?”

Navarro was sentenced to five years and is currently serving his sentence at FCI Miami, a low security federal correctional facility. He is scheduled for release June 18, 2026.

Sentencing for Surick has been held in abeyance pending his cooperation in ongoing cases, including those where Surick may be called upon to testify.

 

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