Day At The Track
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YONKERS, N.Y. – Longtime Standardbred owner and experienced businessman Pat O’Brien has joined the Standardbred Owners Association of New York as Executive Director.  O’Brien’s venture into the harness racing world began in 2008 when he began going to the track with friend and Standardbred owner George Hartman. O’Brien was instantly intrigued and spent six months studying all aspects of the game, and in particular, horse ownership. O’Brien became an owner in 2008. He started with just two horses and his stable grew. To date, he has owned or co-owned 137 Standardbreds who have started in over 1,600 races. O’Brien prides himself on attending his horses’ races in person as often as possible and introducing new fans to the sport. “I always say, who doesn’t like a horse? You may have people who don’t like dogs, don’t like cats. You never hear a person say they don’t like horses. They are beautiful animals,” O’Brien said. “Every time I bring neighbors, friends to the racetrack, bring them into the paddock before and after the race, they are just amazed by these animals. They can’t believe how quiet and content they are before and after the race, how they’re not high strung. I’m also one of the few owners who always bring carrots for the horses after the races.” O’Brien’s most notable horse to date is Act Now, a $40,000 buy from the 2012 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale who won 11 of 38 starts and earned $534,539. The multiple stakes winner’s resume includes a 5 1/2-length win in the Lady Maud at Yonkers in 2014.  “The best thing about that race, I was there with about 20 people. I had my cousin from Ireland, his wife and their three boys were out for the race. That was tremendous. I have that picture hanging up in the living room. She was clearly my top horse,” O’Brien said. O’Brien earned a degree in business from Nassau Community College in 1986 and a degree in Business Management from Long Island University in 1989. He worked at Ford Motor Credit Company until 2009, reaching the level of Branch Manager before the Great Recession hit. O’Brien then took his passion for harness racing full time, focusing on his Pat O’Brien’s Irish Stable. In his free time, O’Brien, a son of Irish immigrants, enjoys spending time with his four siblings and 10 nephews and nieces. “I worked over 20 years in the automobile financing business, not at a dealership, but in the corporate world,” O’Brien said. “Unfortunately, when the financial crisis hit, Ford Motor Credit Company closed all their offices. I decided not to go back to work. During that time period, I went from owning two horses to 13. All the sudden, I was basically a full-time horse owner.” O’Brien said he was thrilled to be offered the position of Executive Director at the SOA of NY after a series of phone calls, Zoom interviews, and finally an in-person interview.  O’Brien’s priorities in his new position include establishing a great working relationship with MGM Yonkers Raceway, protecting the interests of the horsepeople who compete at Yonkers Raceway, assisting in negotiating a contract renewal between the track and the horsepeople, and ensuring the SOA of NY operates efficiently and effectively.  “The SOA’s Personnel Committee received hundreds of resumes from individuals regarding the Executive Director position and conducted numerous interviews in an effort to find the right person to help the SOA deal with the numerous important issues affecting our members,” said Peter Venaglia, SOA of NY First Vice-President and Chairman of the Personnel Committee.  “Pat clearly stood out as the best of a number of well-qualified candidates due to his obvious passion for and commitment to harness racing that he has displayed as a very involved owner for many years,” Venaglia continued. “We welcome Pat aboard, and we know that our members will benefit greatly from Pat’s efforts on their behalf.” by Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY

A Marlborough harness racing identity says the Crown has failed to prove basic elements of charges alleging he was behind a scheme to deceive gambling licensing authorities. In a nearly two-month trial, it was alleged Department of Internal Affairs, which issues licences for pokie gaming machines and the trusts that distribute the profits, was kept in the dark about one man's involvement in a trust intended to channel gambling profits towards racing clubs. Michael (Mike) Joseph O'Brien​, 57, of Blenheim, was in the department's bad books. At the High Court in Wellington on Thursday, O'Brien's lawyer, Bruce Squire, QC, said the department and its inspectors held a "deeply entrenched conviction" that O'Brien was an unsuitable person to be involved in that type of gambling. READ MORE: * Deception alleged in control over pokie machine gambling and profits * Trial ends for elderly pokie gaming fraud defendant Pat O'Brien ​* Defence evidence given in pokie machine profit fraud trial * Long-running pokie gambling fraud trial enters final stages But O'Brien had never been convicted of a Gambling Act offence, and had never been given an opportunity to respond to the claimed unsuitability. The Crown has alleged O'Brien and two other men hid his involvement with setting up and running a trust, Bluegrass, to operate pokie machines and distribute the profits, and with three businesses where machines were sited. But Squire said another defendant had told the department of O'Brien's involvement, and they issued licences for the trust anyway. The court has heard that O'Brien was earning more than $1 million a year lobbying on behalf of racing clubs wanting grants from gaming money. He would invoice the clubs for his services at the start of the season and the Crown alleges O'Brien would then influence or control the grants process so that the clubs received about three times the amount they paid him. One of the men standing trial with O'Brien said there was evidence that the department knew of, and approved, the lobbying arrangement. There were no charges relating to the lobbying or the money received.  In his final address to Justice Robert Dobson, the man, who is representing himself, said he told the department what he knew of O'Brien's involvement helping in administration and advice for O'Brien's father, who was setting up Bluegrass. He said that alongside that information, he told the department O'Brien was not "directly" involved in the trust, which was correct in the context the statement was made. All three defendants pleaded not guilty. O'Brien faces five charges, two relating to the trust and three relating to the gaming machine venues.  Paul Anthony Max, 60, of Nelson, was charged in relation to the three gaming venues, and the 56-year-old man whose name was suppressed faced the two charges relating to the trust. The charges dated from between 2009 and 2013. When the trial began, 15 charges were laid but 10 were dropped. The trial had also begun with O'Brien's father, former New Zealand Harness Racing chairman Patrick O'Brien, 83, of Blenheim, facing charges. The charges against him were stopped due to ill-health.  The Crown alleged that Mike O'Brien in effect directed the grants made to racing clubs, but Squire said the evidence did not support that. One list suggested less than one-quarter of the amounts on O'Brien's "wishlist" were approved.  O'Brien could not have controlled or influenced the grants process without the complicity of the committee that approved grants, and no committee member said their independence was compromised, Squire said. Squire said there was no evidence to support the Crown allegation that O'Brien had influenced grants other trusts made. Reprinted with permission of Stuff  

Patrick O’Brien, the former Harness Racing NZ chairman, appeared by video-link in a the Wellington High Court on his 83rd birthday on Monday. He is accused, with his son, Mike O’Brien, and two others, of multiple counts of obtaining gambling licenses and funds via deception. The doyen of New Zealand’s racing industry, now frail and infirm, denies the charges against him, as do the other three. The prosecution asserts that Mike O’Brien, 58, described in court as a racing lobbyist engaged in helping racing venues to obtain grants, was denied a gambling license in 2005 for reasons of conflict of interest. Subsequently, it’s alleged, he encouraged others to establish companies on his behalf in order to obtain gambling licenses. Also on trial is Paul Max, 60, and a former Department of Internal Affairs employee who cannot be named for legal reasons. The Department of Internal Affairs is responsible in New Zealand for issuing licenses under the Gambling Act.     Grants For Cash It’s alleged that Mike O’Brien controlled millions in pokie profits for his own purposes via a company called Bluegrass Holdings. He also allegedly ran a scheme where he received kickbacks from racing clubs in return for grants. Prosecutor Grant Burston said Michael O’Brien exercised “significant influence” over Bluegrass Holdings, a fact that the others were aware of, and which they concealed from Internal Affairs Inspectors. Charitable trusts, such as Bluegrass claimed to be, are permitted to distribute the proceeds of their gambling operations to underfunded racing venues. But, according to Burston, Mike O’Brien ensured those proceeds went to the clubs that gave him the best kickbacks. Racing Ain’t What it Used To Be In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, apparently conducted two years ago when the fraud investigation was launched, but first published only last week, Mike’s father Patrick claimed he set up Bluegrass for the benefit of clubs after government funding dried up.    “The taxes the government take out of it don’t leave enough for the clubs to exist on,” he said. “When I was growing up you went to the pictures on your push bike and on Saturday there was nothing else to do unless you played football. “Now everyone goes to the beach or goes to the hills. They’ve got casinos to go to and pokie machines to go to. The pubs are open to midnight. A day at the races is no longer the attraction it used to be. They’re not betting now what they were betting 30 years ago. “The take for the clubs, particularly those with poor dates and country venues … they’re not getting enough to exist.“ The prosecution intends to call 46 witness, while the trial is expected to last six weeks. By Kylie Taylor Reprinted with permission of the onlinecasino.com site

Not guilty pleas have been entered for four men facing allegations of $30 million gaming fraud. The four are due back in Wellington District Court on October 8 for a review of the Serious Fraud Office charges against them. Name suppression was continued for one man but the other three are Paul Max, 58, of Nelson; former Harness Racing New Zealand chairman Patrick O'Brien, 80, of Blenheim; and his son Mike O'Brien. A total of 32 charges of obtaining benefits by deception were laid. Max, 58, faces 13 charges that together with Mike O'Brien he obtained venue licences by deception. The man whose name was suppressed  asked to be dealt with separately from the others. He had previously pleaded not guilty and not guilty pleas were entered for the others on Friday. The Serious Fraud Office laid charges in February after an investigation involving police and the Internal Affairs Department into gaming grants made by trusts since 2006. About 20 venues, including five pubs in Blenheim, five properties in Wellington, two in Hawke's Bay and one in Masterton, were investigated. Details of the charges include concealing from the secretary of Internal Affairs that ownership of companies had been transferred from Mike O'Brien to Paul Max, and concealing the influence Mike O'Brien had in the management of Bluegrass Trust to retain control of it. The charges related to gaming machines outside casinos, such as those found in pubs and clubs. The money from them can only be used for certain purposes. Reprinted with permission of Stuff NZ - Check site here

Ex-Harness Racing NZ boss says he set up trust at centre of allegations to help clubs starved of funding. A stalwart of the racing industry among those facing claims of a $30 million pokie fraud has spoken of the sport being starved of cash. Former Harness Racing NZ chairman Pat O'Brien, 82, told the Herald he set up the pokies trust at the centre of the allegations to get cash for race stakes and other purposes after funding dried up. "The taxes the government take out of it don't leave enough for the clubs to exist on," he said. Click here to read the full article written by David Fisher for the New Zealand Herald

The former chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand and members of a prominent horse racing family, Patrick O’Brien, along with his son, Michael, Nelson’s Paul Max and a former gaming inspector who could not be named, have all been issues summons on charges of fraud in one of the country’s largest gambling sector investigations. Called “Operation Chestnut ” the investigation was started back in June of 2012 according to the Serious Fraud Office, Department of Affairs and the police. The investigation alleges that more than $30 million in gaming grants were made by the New Zealand Community Trust, Infinity and Bluegrass Trusts, dating all the way back to 2006. Scheduled to appear in court in February, the four men could face at least 20 charges of obtaining by deception, which could carry up to seven years in jail. "If you don't think you've done anything wrong, it's a bloody shock to get a summons, said Patrick O’Brien. “I'll be defending the charges." Paul Max also said he would defend the charges against him. "It's before the courts so on that basis it's completely inappropriate for me to make any comment." Michael O'Brien said he had been instructed not to comment by his lawyers, but said the charges would be "vigorously defended". The trusts had its gaming license taken away earlier this year after the Gambling Commission found that it provided false and misleading information to Internal Affairs. Harnesslink media

A low-key Internal Affairs swoop last week has emerged as the biggest investigation into potential poker machine fraud with over $30 million in grants to the racing industry under the microscope.

The Pat and Mike O'Brien trained Lifesofine continued his fine run of form today (Tuesday February 19) at the Manawatu harness racing meeting, when winning his fourth race in the space of three weeks.

The Department of Internal Affairs has cancelled the gambling licence of a Blenheim-based gambling trust. Bluegrass Trust, which gave out nearly $3 million in grants last year, plans to appeal the decision, which was announced earlier this month. Ironically the chairman of Bluegrass Holdings Lt - Pat O'Brien is also the chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand.

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