Delaware Commission upholds one-year ban for Vitali

POSTED ON  |  07-09-2019

Marcus Vitali
Barring an intervention from the court system, Marcus Vitali won’t be training horses again any time soon. Following a hearing that went on for over four hours, the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to affirm its stewards’ July 22 decision to suspend Vitali for 365 days and fine him $2,500.

Vitali’s attorney, Alan Pincus, said afterwards that he and his client would “have to talk this over” before he would know if they would appeal. If he were to appeal, the next step would be into the state court system. The case has been, in some respects, a comedy of errors, yet one with real consequences both for the participants and for the integrity of the game itself.

It arose in May when Delaware Park security was called to break up an altercation between two of Vitali’s employees. When security arrived, one of those employees, Brucie Garrett, asked they accompany her back to her dorm room because she wanted to give them something she was holding that she said she “wasn’t comfortable with.”

The two security officials, Mickaela Lee and supervisor Dan Panaro, did so. But when Garrett bent down to take the item — which she described as “a vial” but which Vitali said was a baggie with what appeared to be marijuana in it — from the vegetable compartment of her refrigerator, Vitali suddenly entered the room, grabbed the item, and left with it.

“All of a sudden, Marcus flew in between us all, grabbed it, pocketed it, and fled,” Garrett testified. “It only took seconds, in and out,” Panaro added. “I’m looking, they’re looking, nobody can see nothing,” Vitali testified. “I see what looks like weed in a baggie, I grabbed it.”

Vitali took the item back towards his barn at what Lee described as “a faster pace of walk.” By the time the security officials caught up with him, Vitali said he no longer had the item, having disposed of it in a nearby trash can. Yet no one ever searched either the trash can or Vitali himself, leaving a conspicuous gray area in the case.

In Vitali’s telling, he’s the victim of his own good — if ill-considered — deed. He told the Commission that he grabbed the baggie to prevent the investigators from finding pot that Garrett had been storing for the employee with whom she had been fighting. “I should have just let it go,” he lamented. “Let them take the thing, throw the kid out. Just too many drugs, too many things going on back here.”

But Garrett painted a different, and darker, picture of the Vitali operation. What’s more, she said, as a recovering drug addict, she would never store drugs for someone. Garrett alleged that Vitali had bullied her into storing unmarked vials of a clear liquid that had not been identified to her. She said she had personally witnessed Vitali injecting a horse on race day with the liquid. “I was told it was an anti-biotic,” she said. “I didn’t ask.”

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