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Federal prosecutors charge 4 in connection with horse doping

Where a criminal case is tried -- in state or federal court -- is a matter that could have significant bearing on the outcome of the case. Federal sentencing guidelines are in place to advise judges, but many judges treat the guidelines as if they are mandatory. That means being convicted of a federal crime could lead to a long prison sentence, though it is possible in some cases to obtain a variance from the federal sentencing guidelines.

Federal prosecutors recently accused four Pennsylvania residents of defrauding horse track bettors, but an attorney for one of the defendants argued that the allegations should be addressed by the state Horse Racing Commission and not in federal court.

In particular, three of the defendants are accused of using or attempting to use banned, performance-enhancing substances on horses. The fourth defendant is accused of taking bribes to make false reports to racing officials.

Prosecutors claim that doping horses is a form of fraud because trainers and horse owners can profit if a horse does well in a race, while other bettors at the track and elsewhere stand to lose as a result of doping.

However, the attorney for one of the defendants said that because the Horse Racing Commission had already decided to suspend the defendant from racing, the matter had already been handled by state regulators. In other words, there was no need to take the allegations to federal court.

Nonetheless, the trial for the four defendants has been scheduled for January.

Source: The Republic, "Lawyer: Pa. horse doping case shouldn't be federal crime, but issue for state regulators," Nov. 23, 2013

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