Horse race rebater did the time, now seeks $$$

Sep 30, 2008 6:53 PM

by Ray Poirier | Susan Bala, who was instrumental in expanding the role of horse race rebaters through her company in South Dakota, wants the state to reimburse her for the 523 days she spent in prison for a conviction that was overturned.

But, the judge, who presided over the case that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out, refused to sign a certificate of innocence for Bala, which she needed to recover damages.

The Bala indictment goes back to the 1990’s when she formed Racing Services Inc., a company that accepted wagers on simulcast races from around the country. Like the bets taken in Las Vegas race books, they were then transmitted electronically to the various race tracks to be inserted into the race pools.

But in 2005, North Dakota officials charged that Bala had set up an illegal wagering site in order to avoid paying taxes. She was convicted in a federal court of 12 felonies and ordered to pay some $99 million to the state.

After spending most of a 27-month sentence behind bars, the appeals court said the evidence in the case was insufficient to convict Bala. The three-judge panel also said federal prosecutors based their case on incorrect interpretations of state law.

Her lawyer, Bruce Shoenwald, said he plans to return to the appeals court.

"As I read the 8th Circuit opinion, there was no crime," said Shoenwald. My thought is that the 8th Circuit is going to have to be involved in this latest ruling."

That move didn’t seem to bother the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley.

"We accept the appeals court decision that seemed to indicate this should have been handled in state court," Wrigley commented. "But this puts to bed the outrageous claim that she should be compensated on a prosecution based on her wrongdoing."

The presiding judge said he felt Bala was not deserving of compensation since, "it’s clear to the court that even if Ms. Bala herself did not violate this section, the crime was committed by the board operators and other persons employed by (Racing Services Inc.)."

The compensation sought by Bala was $50,000 for each year in prison.