In a decision that left some angered, others infuriated, and more than a few just plain dumbstruck, a federal judge in New York last week gave many the impression that crime pays.
When U.S. District Judge Charles L. Brieant sentenced Chris Harn, the 29-year-old Drexel university computer whiz, to a year in prison, and gave one of his fraternity brother associates in crime twice that time and a third three times as much, it turned justice upside down.
Harn was the brain of the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six scandal that rocked horse racing last fall. The two Drexel dandies who worked with him were the brawn. But Harn talked and walked, and his frat brothers took the heat.
The judge made it clear that he believed that if Harn had not caved in and talked, prosecutors could not have made the case against Derrick Davis and Glen DaSilva, who worked with him in pulling off the $3 million scam that almost ”” but not quite ”” was the perfect crime.
The details, of course, have been hashed and rehashed. Harn ”” a trusted employee of Autotote, the huge totalisator company that services most American racetracks ”” walked into the computer central of the company on Breeders’ Cup Day, which is rivaled only by the Kentucky Derby as the biggest in American thoroughbred racing, and exploited a weakness in the then prevailing tote system by doctoring tickets to make winners of losers after the races were run.
Davis and DaSilva, both of whom tested positive for cocaine after they were caught, made the bets. Two officials of the New York Racing Association, not involved in the Breeders’ Cup races, which were held in Illinois at Arlington Park, read the results the morning after the race and realized instantly that no one could have done what the Drexel trio did, which was to pick five winners and combine them with a horse that paid almost a hundred dollars to win.
No one, except the Drexel gang had done that, it turned out, although 78 other tickets combined five of the six winners.
The holders of those tickets each cashed in on $4,606.20.
Harn, Davis and DaSilva stood to share the rest of the payout, which came to a cool $3.1 million.
Judge Brieant knew all this when he sentenced the three last week, but he was convinced that if Harn had not cooperated the prosecution could not have obtained convictions. Except for the improbability of the bet, he told the lawyers for the conniving trio, he didn’t see how they could have made their case stick. So he rewarded Harn for squealing, and hit his two computer-smart but street-dumb colleagues with longer terms.
Harn’s confession two weeks after the crime caught the attorneys representing Davis and DaSilva by surprise. They had, in effect, smugly shared the judge’s view that the government had no real case.
Harn actually got a year and a day, which under federal sentencing guidelines made him eligible for a 54-day reduction in his imprisonment, so he will spend only a little more than 10 months for his monstrous plot. The predictions before Judge Brieant’s largesse were that he would get four to seven.
It seems clear that Judge Brieant doesn’t play horses. If he did, he would have understood the magnitude of what Harn and his duped frat brothers did. Harn understood clearly, for he apologized to the court for "the mess that I have created."
He was right. The harm he did was huge, and hugely costly. Autotote says it cost them more than a million, plus ridicule, and it cost the National Thoroughbred Racing Association more than a million too, to hire Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, to try to put out the fire.
What Rudy has done for the money is another matter, a separate story about an ex-mayor who twice has faced disaster and come out smelling like a rose. The fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center brought him front and center as the citizens of New York, frightened and terrified, looked to him for strength and solace. Then racing, also frightened and terrified, looked to him for succor too.