Mistrial Declared for Giannelli in Horse Doping Trial


Photo: Bryan R. Smith
The Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. District Courthouse in Manhattan

COVID-19 temporarily upended Jan. 24 the federal racehorse doping trial of Dr. Seth Fishman and Lisa Giannelli, who are among the 27 defendants in a case involving the use and distribution of misbranded and adulterated drugs for the purpose of enhancing performance.

As the trial's second week began, testimony was delayed after it was revealed that Giannelli's trial attorney had tested positive for the sometimes deadly disease before the trial was to resume Monday. U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil then declared a mistrial on Giannelli's behalf because her attorney Louis Fasulo wouldn't be able to return to court for at least 10 days.

"I can't have a jury on ice for 10 days," she said.

The jury did not hear from any witnesses Monday and Vyskocil sent them home after lunch with the resumption of the trial in doubt.

In the courtroom and without the jury present, Fishman's attorneys also moved for a mistrial. Vyskocil reserved a decision on the motion until Jan. 25 in the morning but during back-and-forth questioning with the Fishman defense team, she hinted at having the trial resume with only Fishman. The trial continues at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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The trial opened Jan. 19 with jury selection followed by two days of opening statements and testimony from three witnesses.

Prosecutor Anden Chow told the jury Fishman and Giannelli had for two decades operated a "black market drug business" that peddled performance-enhancing drugs to horse trainers around the country that were administered to horses on race day and that couldn't be detected by post-race testing. Prosecutors said the 11 trainers charged in the case acted to win lucrative purses without regard to the health of their horses.

Most of the testimony the jury has heard came from the government's first witness, a 34-year-old woman, Courtney Adams, who worked at Fishman's South Florida business for five years until 2017. She said Fishman was fixated on creating drugs that were untestable.

Fishman's attorney Maurice Sercarz told the jury his client's actions were in accordance with his veterinary oath to protect the safety and welfare of animals. Fasulo said Giannelli didn't believe she was doing anything wrong while working for Fishman.

Both Fishman and Giannelli are out on bail and were in court Monday.

The U.S. District Court in New York has implemented numerous COVID-19 protocols to avoid outbreaks. The witness stand has been outfitted with a HEPA-filtered plexiglass box. There's also a HEPA-filtered plexiglass box for lawyers to use when they question witnesses. Masks are required of everyone in the courtroom, including the judge, but witnesses and lawyers can remove them if they are using those boxes.

Over the weekend courthouse officials implemented a new protocol. It required that lawyers and witnesses needed to take a rapid PCR test if they intended to remove their masks while using the boxes.

It was when Fasulo took the test in accordance with the new protocol that he learned of the positive result. He showed up in the courtroom briefly and then left. He spoke to the judge via an audio hookup. His symptoms appeared to be mild, and he told Vyskocil he had a "tickle in his throat."

"I don't know what we're going to do. I feel terrible," Fasulo said before consenting to the mistrial. Giannelli's new trial date hasn't been set.

Fishman's other attorney, Marc Fernich, argued a mistrial was warranted given the positive COVID-19 test. He also said it was warranted given that the trial's beginnings had exposed a conflict in defense strategy with Fasulo. As proof Fernich and Sercarz pointed to Fasulo's opening statement.

"Mr. Fasulo's second line was, 'We sit here after hearing the government say Lisa Giannelli was a lone wolf in a herd of sheep. What she was, was more than the proverbial sheep herded by the sheep master,' a clear reference to Dr. Fishman," Sercarz said.

He and Fernich argued that it would be difficult to convince the jury otherwise after they heard that and Giannelli was no longer part of the case.

Vyskocil said she didn't see the problem.

"Opening statements are not evidence and the jury has been told that," she said.

Still awaiting trial is trainer Jason Servis, whose horse Maximum Security   finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Rerserve (G1) only to be taken down for interfering with another horse. Prosecutors have accused Servis of doping dozens of horses in his barn, including Maximum Security.

The Thoroughbred industry’s leading publications are working together to cover this key trial.