Former Harness Trainer Banca Sentenced To 30 Months In Federal Doping Case - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Former Harness Trainer Banca Sentenced To 30 Months In Federal Doping Case

Richard Banca

Former harness trainer Richard Banca has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison after entering a guilty plea to one count of drug adulteration and misbranding in the sweeping 2020 indictment of two dozen racing trainers, veterinarians, and others. Banca appeared before U.S. District Court Judge P. Kevin Castel for sentencing on Sept. 20.

He was also sentenced to one year of supervised release, plus a fine of $10,000. At the time he changed his plea in April of this year, he also agreed to forfeit $120,975.40.

Banca had been indicted alongside veterinarian Dr. Louis Grasso, fellow harness horsemen Rene Allard, Thomas Guido, Conor Flynn, and Rick Dane, and drug distributor Donato Poliseno. Banca's role in the doping ring dated back to at least 2015.

According to a pre-sentencing report from federal prosecutors, Banca sought out performance-enhancing drugs from multiple sources. The report indicated that earnings of Banca-trained horses that may have been impacted by this PED use totaled between $9.5 million and $25 million.

Banca was accused of purchasing drugs including pain blockers and bronchodilators from Louis Grasso, a former veterinarian and co-defendant. He is also alleged to have purchased custom-made products from Grasso, and to have paid Grasso to write prescriptions for the blood-building substance epogen (commonly known as erythropoietin or EPO).

“Those false prescriptions were issued to a pet horse named 'Trymysocks,' and in the name of a third party who disclaimed any knowledge of the prescriptions when questioned by law enforcement,” read the report. “These layers of deceit were necessary to obscure the defendant's receipt and use of these prescription drugs. The defendant obtained hundreds of prescriptions and prescription refills for epogen, sometimes receiving multiple prescriptions with multiple refill orders in the span of one month, all in the name of one horse.”

Records by prosecutors showed that Banca was obtaining new prescriptions as frequently as every six days, sometimes ten refills at a time.

Grasso wasn't Banca's only source for substances, according to the government. Assistant trainer Conor Flynn also obtained drugs for Banca from Seth Fishman's operation via Lisa Giannelli, who worked for Fishman. Flynn was one of the original defendants in the case but had charges against him dropped after he agreed to testify against Giannelli in court.

“Because there was no reason for this course of conduct other than to force racehorses to perform beyond their natural abilities, Banca was, indeed, involved in the abuse of animals for money,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors asked for 36 months of prison time for Banca.

Attorneys for Banca took issue with the terms prosecutors used to calculate sentencing ranges in their report. For one thing, they wrote that while an earlier report from the government characterized Banca's winnings as around $16 million, only half goes to the winner, and the trainer themselves gets only a percentage of that winner's purse, so his personal gain was not as staggering a figure as it may seem. They also took issue with the prosecution's contention that the illegal drugs administered by Banca caused horses to race through pain, which they say is not supported by evidence.

Banca wrote a letter to the court expressing his remorse.

“I would like to start with telling you I'm sorry for what I've done, I'm sorry for breaking the law,' wrote Banca. “I'm sorry for what this has done to my family. I never thought I would ever be in trouble with the law. I know I have made mistakes, but I have taken the last 2 ½ years to do right.”

Banca trained horses since dropping out of high school at 18 to pursue a career in harness racing. According to Harness Racing Update, Banca's career took off in 2015, which is the same time the government says his PED use began. He won 55 races in 2014, followed by 174 in 2015 and 200 in 2016. He was once one of the leading trainers at Yonkers Raceway and was one in a handful of trainers previously banned from participation at the Meadowlands.

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