FBI Probe: Attorney For Nick Surick Says Government Won’t Recommend Reduced Sentence – Horse Racing News

Sentencing for Standardbred trainer and Thoroughbred owner Nick Surick has been delayed until Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. ET after U.S. District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil postponed the original sentencing date of Dec. 15 because of an ongoing jury trial. Proceedings will be at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse for the Southern District of New York, 500 Pearl Street in New York.

Surick, 34, was one of more than two dozen trainers, veterinarians, drug manufacturers and distributors arrested in March 2020 on charges of drug misbranding and adulteration that was the focus of an FBI probe into illegal horse doping in several states, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Florida.

Surick, whose 367 victories in 2019 placed him second among all North American trainers, according to the United States Trotting Association, also owned or co-owned Thoroughbreds that were trained by two other confessed horse dopers, Jorge Navarro and Michael Tannuzzo. Navarro is serving five years in federal prison. Tannuzzo was sentenced last month to 27 months in prison.

A third Thoroughbred trainer employed by Surick, Aparna Batula, is serving a 2 ½-year license suspension handed to her by the New Jersey Racing Commission for possession of 83 injectable vials and 36 hypodermic needles discovered in her Monmouth Park tack room. A search was conducted after Sassy Chub, a horse co-owned by Surick, tested positive for dexamethasone after finishing second in a Monmouth Park race on May 19, 2019. An attorney for Batula said the trainer was framed by a disgruntled former employee.

One of the first defendants to cooperate with prosecutors, Surick pleaded guilty in October 2020 to two counts of conspiracy and one count of obstruction. According to his attorney, Timothy M. Donohue, Surick provided “first-hand information” on performance enhancing drug use or distribution by, among others, Navarro, Marcos Zulueta, Michael Tannuzzo, Ross Cohen, Christopher Oakes, Seth Fishman, and Erica Garcia. According to the memorandum,  Surick provided information on potentially illegal conduct by others who had not been charged in the federal indictments.

A cooperation agreement often leads to a reduced sentencing recommendation from the U.S. attorney. However, in a memorandum to Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, the attorney for Surick said prosecutors have determined that their client is not entitled to a “downward departure,” a legal term for a sentencing that is lower than the minimum suggested by federal guidelines.

Under the original charges, Surick faced up to 20 years in prison. His attorney has asked Vyskocil for a “downward variance” and sentence Surick to 12 months home confinement so that “he will be able to continue operating his fledgling, new business so as to provide a living for himself and his employees.”  The attorney said Surick started a landscaping business that has six employees.

The reason for the government’s decision not to ask Vyskocil for a reduced sentence for Surick isn’t certain, but the sentencing memorandum from his attorney brings up a discrepancy in one element of the information Surick provided the government concerning a Standardbred named Northern Virgin. This was the horse that Surick admitted attempting to hide from racing officials seeking an out-of-competition test sample after it was given an injection of the blood-doping agent EPO. Surick told the government that veterinarian Rebecca Linke administered the EPO shot while he held the horse’s head.

“Critically, it turned out later that Surick’s recollection was wrong,” his attorney wrote. Linke, it turns out, was not present when the EPO injection was given and apparently produced records to prove it. Linke has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the government, meaning charges will be dismissed if she complies with the terms of the agreement.

Surick’s government file also includes what appears to be an anonymous submission mailed from Trenton, N.J.,  to Vyskocil attempting to show that Surick is not living up to a statement in the sentencing memorandum that he “immediately surrendered his horse racing licenses and no longer participating in the sport.” Along with a copy of that page of the memorandum is a screenshot from the website theblackbook.com showing that Nicholas K. Surick, agent, paid $60,000 for a standardbred filly named Jag Out.

The consignor of the horse purchased by Surick was Preferred Equine, operated by David Reid, recipient of this year’s USTA President Award. Jag Out was purchased in November 2022 at the Harrisburg Sale operated by USTA president Russell Williams.

Sources have provided the Paulick Report other instances alleging additional bloodstock purchases by Surick since his March 2020 arrest.

A racing license is not required to purchase horses at auction.