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By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A prominent horse racing trainer pleaded guilty on Wednesday to involvement in what U.S. prosecutors have called a global scheme to systematically drug horses and cheat the betting public.
Jorge Navarro admitted in federal court in Manhattan to involvement in a conspiracy to administer performance-enhancing drugs to horses, in order to win more prize money at racetracks.
He could face five years in prison at his Dec. 17 sentencing and agreed to pay $25.9 million in restitution, reflecting winnings tied to doping. U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil accepted Navarro's plea.
"As he admitted today, Navarro, a licensed trainer and the purported 'winner' of major races across the world, was in fact a reckless fraudster whose veneer of success relied on the systematic abuse of the animals under his control," U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan said in a statement.
Jason Kreiss, Navarro's lawyer, said in an email the trainer accepted responsibility for his actions.
At last 31 trainers, veterinarians, drug distributors and others have been charged since March 2020 over alleged doping affecting races in New York, Kentucky, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and the United Arab Emirates.
Seven defendants have pleaded guilty and one entered a deferred prosecution agreement, court records show.
Other defendants include Jason Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security, which appeared to win the 2019 Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference.
That horse also won the $20 million Saudi Cup, the world's richest horse race, before Servis was charged.
Servis is seeking to suppress a variety of wiretap evidence, including from Navarro's phone. Rita Glavin, a lawyer for Servis, declined to comment.
Navarro's career winnings total $34.9 million, led by $3 million for the gelding X Y Jet, according to racing industry database provider Equibase.
Prosecutors said Navarro regularly drugged that horse, including with a substance he called "monkey," in March 2019 before it won the Dubai Golden Shaheen, collecting $1.5 million.
X Y Jet died of an apparent heart attack in January 2020.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)