Stephen Lewandowski at trainer Bob Baffert’s NYRA hearing
A steward for the New York Racing Association from 2014 through 2019, and employed by the New York State Gaming Commission in other roles since 1986, Stephen Lewandowski has been revealed as the subject of a state investigation that indicated he engaged in “favoritism” and “inconsistent application of policies,” reports the Albany Times-Union. The report, by a New York inspector general, was released as part of a pledge of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration to be more transparent.
The inspector general’s investigation, conducted in 2018, stemmed from a complaint filed by an unnamed owner who claimed Lewandowski had been withholding the purse money his horse had won. Then–acting Gaming Commission Inspector General Lisa Lee discovered the owner and his trainer had been in a dispute about training/veterinary fees, and that Lewandowski had withheld the purse money for more than a year without either notifying other Gaming Commission officials or filing a suspension of the owner.
Lewandowski’s colleagues also told investigators that he was “arrogant, condescending, intimidating and disrespectful” and acted like “God at the track.”
The investigative report concluded: “Lewandowski’s fitness to represent the commission as a steward should be reconsidered given his actions against licensees who have not been suspended or revoked, his lack of understanding as to his role vis-a-vis the Division of Horse Racing and Pari-Mutuel Wagering and the commission as a whole, as well as his lack of record-keeping related to actions taken.”
However, Lewandowski kept his job for seven months after the date of the report, at which point he retired voluntarily. Contacted by the Times-Union, Lewandowski said he was completely unaware of the inspector general’s findings.
Recently, Lewandowski has been in the news for his ardent support of embattled Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert during a suspension hearing called by the New York Racing Association.
Under questioning from Baffert’s attorneys, Lewandowski said he had no dealings with Baffert on any integrity or rule violation issues in his time serving as a steward in the state. Lewandowski said he called Baffert sometime after he was suspended by NYRA to offer his support.
“I feel like he’s been unfairly taken advantage of,” Lewandowski said. “He’s never had any problems in New York.”
On cross examination, NYRA attorney Henry Greenberg questioned that point by Lewandowski, bringing up the controversy about Baffert’s non-coupled entry in the 2018 Belmont Stakes. Baffert saddled both Triple Crown winner Justify in that race as well as Restoring Hope, who was piloted by Florent Geroux. Mike Repole, co-owner of Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, would later complain to New York Post writer Tom Pedulla that Geroux put in a “reckless” ride aboard Restoring Hope, possibly in an attempt to block some of Justify’s competitors.
Headlines in the Post questioned officials’ decision not to launch an investigation into the race. Lewandowski said that he eventually spoke to Repole but also that he did not recall Repole’s complaint. He said he did not speak to Baffert about the incident, and said he did not recall subsequent media coverage questioning the stewards’ lack of investigation. He also said he did not recall eventually reversing course and speaking to Geroux, nor did he recall a meeting with the other stewards, who Greenberg suggested disagreed with each other on the best way to handle the situation.
Then, Greenberg asked Lewandowski about his support of Rick Dutrow, who was suspended 10 years and fined $50,000 after one of his horses tested positive for butorphanol and three hypodermic needles were discovered in a desk drawer in Dutrow’s office. Following his retirement in 2019, Lewandowski wrote a letter to the Gaming Commission and to the Queens County District Attorney saying that Braulio Baeza Jr., then a NYRA steward, told him the syringes were planted.
Baeza later denied he told Lewandowski this. Baeza is the new state steward who holds Lewandowski’s former job.
As to the dispute in stories between himself and Baeza, Lewandowski let loose.
“Braulio Baeza, one of us is lying. It’s either Braulio Baeza or me. Are you accusing me of lying?” yelled Lewandowski during Baffert’s hearing. “One of us is lying. Why would Braulio Baeza speak to me about Rick Dutrow, who he had nothing to do with. One of us is lying. And I’m not accusing anybody. But it’s either him or me. And believe me, he said it to more than one person.
“…Are you calling me a liar, sir? Are you calling me a liar? I am not a liar … I thought Braulio Baeza was a good man. One of us had the information to help a man who was wiped out.
Read more at the Times Union.