Sarah Izhaki, one of the defendants in the March 2020 federal indictment surrounding illegal doping rings in horse racing, was sentenced to 12 months of home detention and three years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil on Monday. Izhaki entered a guilty plea at the end of 2020 on a charge of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute adulterated and misbranded drugs.
According to federal documents, Izhaki was a distributor of illegal drugs which were neither approved for sale in the United States nor provided pursuant to prescriptions. Izhaki sold products directly to trainers, sometimes out of her car in various parking lots. The primary drug she was accused of peddling was a Mexican-produced erythropoietin (EPO) which was originally formulated by an unidentified source to treat cancer in pets. Izhaki sold the EPO to an undercover source and an undercover officer and also suggested that she could provide a masking agent she called “The Devil,” as well as amphetamines. Izhaki said The Devil was so strong a horse could be given cocaine and not test positive.
Izhaki appeared before the court during Monday’s sentencing proceedings, which took place over video conference.
“I am very sorry for the bad decisions I made against the poor animals,” said Izhaki, speaking through an interpreter. “If I could do it again, I would have made different decisions.
“I know that my being remorseful and being sorry is not enough. The only thing I can do now is make the right decisions moving forward.”
Prosecutors had requested a prison sentence of 12 to 18 months in the case per presentencing guidelines, while the defense requested a ruling of time served. Izhaki had previously agreed to a forfeiture of her proceeds from the drug sales, which were alleged to take place between February 2018 and November 2019. The forfeiture totaled over $103,000 but attorneys had agreed Izhaki would be made to pay only $20,000, citing a failure to pay the full amount.
Vyskocil was very clear that other defendants in the federal case should not feel emboldened by her decision not to send Izhaki to prison.
“I recognize that many people in the horse racing industry and other cases that are pending may well be looking at what the court does today, paying attention to this case and viewing it in effect as a benchmark or bellwether for other horse doping cases and for the abuses in the industry in general,” said Vyskocil. “I want to say on the record that if you’re doing that, you’re making a mistake. I say that because in the court’s view, the circumstances in this case are somewhat unique.”
Vyskocil said she believed Izhaki was manipulated into selling the illegal substances after a difficult upbringing made her overly inclined to please the people around her. Sentencing documents describe a strict orthodox Jewish upbringing in Mexico for Izhaki, followed by an arranged marriage at the age of 14 and a divorce when she was 16 that resulted in estrangement from her family. Izhaki became a naturalized United States citizen in part to seek better medical care for a degenerative condition that has significantly impaired her vision and is expected to leave her legally blind. Additionally, defense counsel cited numerous physical ailments and surgeries, mobility challenges, chronic pain from multiple serious car accidents — one of which delayed her sentencing by several months — and mental health challenges. The uncertainty over her impending sentence is believed to have worsened her health conditions. These factors, Vyskocil stated, made it likely that a prison sentence would cause significant deterioration of her physical and mental health.
Vyskocil said she thought it unlikely that Izhaki would reoffend, given her apparently genuine remorse and almost immediate interest in entering a guilty plea in the case.
Izhaki was indicted alongside her daughter, Ashley Lebowitz. Prosecutors chose in December to defer prosecution in Lebowitz’s case.
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