Athletes across the world watched this month as elite horse trainer Jason Servis plead guilty to doping related charges. For years, the horse racing community has known service as a premier horse trainer, leading dozens of horses to victory and winning millions in prizes. His case has far reaching implications, not just for horse racing, but for sports in general both in the US and abroad.
Doping cases are rarely about just one athlete
From a federal prosecutor’s perspective, pursuing doping charges for just one athlete is almost never worth the time and resources; issues like that are often better left to sports administrators who can meet out direct punishment to the individual’s sports life. However, doping rarely amounts to a one-off issue. Instead, it often is the result of a widespread conspiratorial effort involving athletes, trainers, sports officials, corporations and even doctors and pharmaceutical companies. When federal prosecutors do choose to file charges, it is the result of years long investigations likely backed by overwhelming evidence.
In the case of Servis, his plea comes as the response to what is actually four connected cases, indicting Servis as well as a number of veterinarians and drug distributors in the case. This case is especially complicated because the performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) were unregulated, modified and designed to evade standard racehorse testing. Similar multifaceted investigations have taken place involving Eric Lira and multiple Olympians.
Doping is illegal in more ways than you may think
Many people think that using PEDs is wrong because it is “cheating,” but the law cares little about those moralisms. Instead, it has a number of practical issues with doping, not the least of which is that most PEDs are controlled substances and restricted for only very particular uses. . Illicit PED use can also result in fraud charges when associated with high-stakes winnings or when done as a part of a gambling or fraud conspiracy.
In short, doping is important because it is often done as a means to further other criminal activity, and because it typically involves multiple people, doping is almost always a conspiratorial matter.
What does a doping investigation look like?
Doping is a crime that primarily exists in the context of organized sports, both individual and team. This unique context means that doping investigations often follow a similar structure. A lead agency, often the FBI or the FDA, will investigate along with regulatory sports bodies like the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which coordinates Olympic and Paralympic sports teams. They then have access to a wide range of different reports and filings about individuals and their performance.
From this vantage, investigators can review a veritable treasure trove of information that may otherwise be protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Medical data collected by the organization, along with doctor’s records and other information can all come together to indicate doping. Moreover, once they have a foothold on an individual who may be indicted, they can pressure subjects or targets of the investigation and offer leniency, benefits, or even immunity from prosecution for information on doping scandals at large or one at the focus of their investigation.
What you should know if you think you are the subject of a doping investigation
People who are under suspicion of doping and experiencing a federal or state regulatory or criminal investigation or inquiry need to take particular precautions to protect their rights throughout the course of an investigation. In particular, the foundations of an investigation may be tenuous information may have been obtained illegally, or various other procedural violations may have occurred leading to a potential constitutional right violation that may be grounds for full dismissal of charges later. In addition, because much of the information at stake is medical, your right to privacy is tantamount. The investigators cannot simply take your medical information without appropriate process and grounds. Preemptive action as soon as possible may be the best protection you have.
What about other investigations related to the distribution of adulterated and misbranded drugs?
Law enforcement and regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), often conduct investigations related to adulterated, misbranded or mislabeled drugs, particularly as they relate to health care professionals and the receipt and use of drugs from overseas. Attorney Darryl Goldberg has represented clients in these and other highly technical drug cases, including cases involving the distribution of mislabeled drugs, as well as performance enhancing drugs and/or illegal steroids. You can reach him at his offices in Chicago or Miami where he represents the accused in federal and state district courts nationwide.