- Horse Racing - Race-fixing rider a fugitive in Panama

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Friday, December 1
Race-fixing rider a fugitive in Panama

Manuel Torres, one of the seven Penn National jockeys indicted on race-fixing charges earlier this year, is believed to be in Panama and to have applied for a racing license in the country, Panamanian racing officials said Thursday.

The development came as five of the jockeys and two owners filed guilty pleas in Pennsylvania Thursday, according to the U.S. district attorney's office.

Alfonso Ferrer, the racing operations manager at Hippodromo Presidente Remon in Panama, said that a jockey named Manuel Torres had arrived in the country from the U.S. several weeks ago, but Panamanian authorities have refused to license him to ride.

"There is a possibility that this is the Manuel Torres that is involved in race-fixing in the United States," Ferrer said. "We have received a letter from New York saying he is all right, but we are waiting to hear from Penn National. For now, we have told him that provisionally he is not allowed to ride until we hear from them."

Torres, who last rode Sept. 8 at Hoosier before disappearing, has failed to appear at two court hearings since being indicted in late September. The U.S. District Attorney's office considers the 34-year-old a fugitive from justice.

Torres, six other riders, and two Pennsylvania horse owners have been accused of fixing races by authorities in Pennsylvania, and each faces five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. The owners allegedly paid the riders to hold their mounts so as to eliminate those horses from exacta and trifecta combinations.

The two owners - George D. Berryhill and Neil McElwee - and five jockeys - Ramon Pena, Lazaro Vives, Luis Morales, Rocky Jurado, and Andres Reyes - filed guilty plea agreements in U.S. federal court in Harrisburg.

U.S. Attorney David M. Barasch said Thursday that the riders and owners will likely appear next week before a judge to enter their pleas formally. Sentencing will occur within six to eight weeks, he said. Another rider, Felix Pinero, is scheduled to face trial in January.

Barasch refused to comment on the whereabouts of Torres or to confirm or deny that investigators believe he is in Panama. "We have a good idea of where he is, but I don't want to jeopardize our investigation," he said.

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