Three of the nation’s four top money‐winning harness drivers were among 28 persons indicted by Federal authorities yesterday on charges of fixing superfecta races at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways.
The indictments, resulting from a year‐long grand jury investigation, accused 13 drivers of conspiring with a betting ring that allegedly made $3‐million on about 30 rigged superfectas between last Jan. 1 and April 13. Most of the other defendants are “10 per centars,” so called because they receive a fee for cashing big‐payoff tickets.
Irregular betting patterns at shops of the Offtrack Betting Corporation triggered the investigation, which came to public attention nearly four months ago in a story in The New York Times. The superfecta, in which a bettor attempts to pick the first four finishers in exact order, has been banned at New York tracks since April 13.
Insko Is ‘Shocked’
William (Buddy) Gilmour, Del Insko and Carmine Abbatiello are the best‐known of the indicted drivers. They rank second, third and fourth on the season money‐winning standing, each with purse earnings of more than $1.2‐million.
“I’m shocked,” said Insko, 42‐year‐old president of the National Association of Harness Drivers, at the arraignment in Federal Court in Brooklyn. “I don’t see how this could be happening.”
All 28 defendants were charged with violation of Federal statutes prohibiting bribery in sports events. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail or a fine of $10,000 or both. If convicted, the drivers would also face life suspensions from harness racing.
No Pleas Entered
No pleas were entered yesterday, and no date was set for pretrial motions. The jury trial is not expected to begin before next March.
Nondrivers indicted included Forrest Gerry Jr., described as the ringleader of the betting syndicate, and Peter Vario, son of Paul Vario Sr., a reputed Brooklyn underworld figure.
Denis E. Dillon, head of the Strike Force that conducted the investigation, called the case the “biggest conspiracy of its kind” in New York. Fifteen weeks ago, Dillon had told track and OTB officials privately that wholesale driver indictments would be made within two weeks.
Asked yesterday why they had been delayed so long, he replied: “Because additional evidence developed.”
$1,000 a Driver
According to Dillon, the accused drivers received either $1,000, or one winning superfecta ticket each for influencing the outcome of a race.
“That was their own little gamble,” he said at a prearraignment news conference in the office of Acting United States Attorney Edward J. Boyd. “They had to make the choice beforehand.”
The indictment charged the defendants and co‐conspirators with arranging that certain horses would not finish among the first four, or arranging that a certain horse would finish in an agreedupon position. By eliminating two or three horses of the eight competing from consideration, the betting ring allegedly was able to buy multiple tickets on the remaining superfecta combinations at minimal cost.
For example, it would cost $5,040 to buy tickets on every possible combination (1,680 tickets at $3 apiece) in an eight‐horse superfecta field. By knocking out two horses, a syndicate could guarantee itself a winning ticket for only $1,080.
According to Dillon, the syndicate bet between $25,000 and $50,000 on each allegedly fixed superfecta, meaning they would have cashed about 25 to 50 winning tickets each time. Superfecta payoffs averaged about $3,500.
‘Web’ of Conspiracy
Hal Meyerson, 28‐year‐old special attorney for the Strike Force, described the case as “a shocking web” of conspiracy.
“I’m still a young guy,” said Meyerson, said to have been the “workhorse” of the grand jury investigation, “and the last time I saw anything like this was when I read about how the Chicago White Sox fixed the 1919 World Series. This case must be very shocking to the public.”
However, despite concern by harness tracks about a “crisis of public confidence,” many fans accept fixed races as part of the game. A typical comment from the cynics is: “Listen, I see guys out there every night getting hernias pulling horses.”
Yet three previous major investigations of harness racing at Roosevelt, Yonkers and Monticello Raceways in the last seven years produced no indictments on charges of race‐fixing.
Like Meyerson, defense attorneys for the accused drivers expressed shock over the indictments: but for a different reason. They said the language of the indictments was so vague that they wouldn’t be able to prepare a defense until the charges become more specific.
“A paint‐brush indictment,” said Herb Sterenfeld, attorney for Gilmour and two other accused drivers, Ben Webster and Kenneth McNutt. “You’ve got very broad strokes here. No dates. No races. No specifics. We’ll have to ask for more particulars.”
Said Stephen Lang, Insko’s lawyer: “It’s incredibly vague. The indictment doesn’t say how they were supposed to have fixed the races. It just throws everybody into one big package.”
Ironically, another defense attorney, Daniel P. Hollman, is the man who headed the Federal Strike Force that investigated a suspicious exacta race at Yonkers Raceway in 1971. No indictments developed from that investigation, though Hollman said at the time:
“If I had been there that night, I would have booed, too. It looked like a phony race.”