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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Jockeys' Guild Is No Joke

- I’ve had some fun lampooning the Jockeys' Guild and their leader Dr. Wayne Gertmenian, while at the same time acknowledging that the causes they’ve spoken out on are legitimate and serious. Some of their statements have been so outrageous – at times, more in the way they were put than what they actually said – that it’s been hard to resist. So I was looking forward to the appearance of Dr. G and some of his friends and foes in front of Rep. Ed Whitfield’s Subcommittee on Tuesday, partly because I figured there would be some good material for snark.

But after reading the press accounts and transcripts of the testimony, I feel nothing but contempt and sadness. Sad for Gary Birzer, in the prime of his life at 30 years old, unable to raise his fingers when taking the oath to testify; and for all the jockeys who were betrayed, including those who were duped by Gertmenian into removing the old leadership and installing him. And I no longer find Dr. G the least bit funny; in fact, I’m rather embarrassed that I did in the first place, considering the fact that the Birzers face a half million dollars in debt due at least in part to his negligence and deception. I'm sorry for making light of the situation.

Matt Hegarty in the Form reports that after five hours of being mostly lambasted by current and former Guild members, Gertmenian could do nothing more than to use his five-minute opening address to call for the racing industry to adopt new rules on how jockeys are weighed. He admitted that his Matrix Capital consulting firm has no employees and no clients other than the Guild, meaning that the hundreds of thousands of dollars the Guild paid to it was going to none other than Dr. G, his relatives and cronies.

The committee alleged that out of $335,000 paid by the guild to Matrix in 2004, some $184,000 was unaccounted for. Of the expenses [Gertmenian] could detail, some $50,000 went to his daughter and her consulting company. When asked what services the daughter provided, Gertmenian said, "Answering the phones and whatever she could do to help."

Another $16,000 went to "Fiss Consulting," which Gertmenian said is operated by his vice president.
........
"You've done not a darn thing except to obfuscate and not obey the subpoenas of this committee," said Joe Barton, R-Texas and chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee. Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, who briefly testified, stood and applauded after Barton's questioning of Gertmenian was finished.

Asked repeatedly why he had not produced all the subpoenaed documents and why he couldn't give details as to where the money had gone, Gertmenian said, "We are so incredibly overwhelmed. [Associated Press]
And then there’s the question of the infamous resume:
Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said no one had been able to identify Gertmenian in any position of significance during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He asked Gertmenian if his resume was correct. "Yes, sir," the Guild chief replied. "We think it's a complete fabrication," Barton said. "You need to provide some documentation." [Bloodhorse]
Chris McCarron, who led the charge to replace former Guild head John Giovanni with Gertmenian, admitted that "Bringing Dr. G into the mix was the worst mistake I ever made." Robert Colton, who also participated in the coup, issued an apology: "To Mr. Giovanni: John, you and your staff did absolutely nothing wrong and I am truly sorry for my part in your removal as national manager of the Jockey’s Guild." [Lexington Herald Reader] He told the subcommittee that Gertmenian had told him to double bill states for benefits, and he described the chaotic state of the organization’s business practices:
Members’ savings and health insurance premiums were being commingled into the general operating account. Audits and tax returns were excessively late and appeared to me to be incorrect, with possible fraud. I discovered the independent auditor had a long time relationship with Gertmenian. Since the Gertmenian takeover, the Guild had stopped filing Department of Labor Management LM-2 reports, as require by the DOL. Employees’ apartments, food, and utility bills had been regularly paid for and hidden inside of the Guild’s expenses. I could not find any record where 1099s had been issued for these fringe benefits. Gertmenian’s $12,000 worth of annual insurance annuities the Guild bought for him as required in his contract was also hidden. His contract provided him with a leased car and related expenses which were not listed anywhere on the tax returns. The car was basically for personal use. There was no office structure, no job descriptions, and no check and balances of any kind. I also witnessed what I considered serious election manipulations and violations.
Jerry Bailey was there too, and in sometimes elegant testimony, he told the committee how the Guild, of which he was a member for almost 30 years, was traditionally a social welfare organization for jockeys, providing insurance and benefits and helping those riders who were less well-off. He told of an early encounter that led to his resignation.
During the ensuing weeks, I contacted Dr. G by way of a phone number Mr. McCarron had given me. The purpose of my call was to conduct an informal interview of Dr .G so that I might be more well versed as to his qualifications, or lack thereof, for the job of National Managing Secretary of the Guild. (I felt an obligation to the membership to either endorse this man or not). I asked Dr. G to provide me with a few references of previous employment, to which he answered repeatedly that those references were confidential, and that under no circumstances would he comply. At that moment, I began to distrust this “Dr. G”. [Herald-Reader]
But despite the withering criticism of Gertmenian by the committee members and jockeys alike, the core issue of on track insurance for jockeys was not overlooked. Bailey called for "some type of national program or policy," and Colton pointed out:
When the cost for a national program is compared to the national mutual handle, it really isn’t a question of money. To insure all the jockeys in the United States with a million dollars of medical coverage is less than two-thirds of one-tenth of one percent of the national handled (0.066%). What is the problem here?
And Rep Whitfield agreed, hinting of possible Congressional oversight, and saying of the industry "They definitely have a responsibility. There is a lot of money involved in racing. ... We have a lot of mechanisms we can look at to try to address the issue of health care and safety for jockeys." [AP]

"Racing has $25 billion in economic impact, hundreds of thousands of jobs, generates $16 billion in handle but still does not provide adequate on-track insurance for its most important people.” [Herald Reader]

As for the Guild, Dr. G had no comment afterwards, and the best retort VP Albert Fiss could muster was "I think the bottom line there is [Whitfield] is a Churchill Downs-bought congressman.” [AP] In the past, I'd play that remark for the laughs it deserves, but it's just not funny anymore. It's just plain pathetic.

6 Comments:

Anonymous said...

...hi Alan...i'd just like to echo Mark's comment from yesterday...i think your blog is great...i stumbled onto it a few weeks ago while doing an internet search on Dr. Pleasure...i think it's amazing how you post such a wide array of horsey news, even providing links to the stories you touch on...must be very time-consuming...i concentrate almost exclusively on the SoCal circuit myself, the exception being anything potentially Breeders Cup related (therein lies my interest in the Euro contingent)...i now check your blog every day, and find it very well-written and informative...keep up the great work, and good luck on Breeders Cup day!...

Walter said...

...oops, forgot to leave my name...

Walter in Las Vegas

alan said...

Walter - Thanks so much for the kind words. It is indeed time-consuming, but it's a labor of love and hearing from people like yourself make it even more worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Alan,

Your blog on the Congressional hearing concerning the Guild and on track insurance was outstanding. Until I read your blog, I was unable to articulate to anyone how I felt. Your words jumped off my screen. I was reliving the very disturbing emotions I had while participating in the hearing. You obviously read the hundreds of pages of written testimony and listen to the web cast. You ability to write a concise review of such a emotional hearing is a talent.

Please keep up with your blog. I can't speak for others, but I am one that reads your blog on a regular basis. Please keep blogging. Thank you for giving me the words to express myself.

Robert Colton

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan, I enjoyed reading your comments on Gertmenian. I found your site after reading today's LA.Times. You and others should be aware that this is not the first time he has ruined people for personal gain. Long before horse racing he was doing the same kind of scams in the Los Angeles. For over 20 years he has befriended dedicated people, he then creates a "crisis" that he can "fix" while insulating himself with his cronies and attacking those that really care.

Many in the Los Angeles area have seen this all before and not associated with horse racing. I find is just sad the stakes have gotten so big.

Maybe the Attorney General should do an investigation into his dealing or some good reporter dig into his past. They might be surprised what they find. Here is a hint, look for the money.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alan,more from outside horse racing.

Did you know that Gertmenian claimed over 20 years ago to be Abert Fiss' legal guardian or adopted parent? Seems to me there is a little more self dealing transacitons than Congress the Guild might be aware of.