A former backstretch employee deliberately released a racehorse from its stable at Belmont Park in July, causing it to fall on the blacktop and suffer a fatal injury, as retaliation for being fired by the filly's trainer, Nassau prosecutors said.
The Nassau District Attorney's Office unsealed a grand jury indictment Thursday in Nassau County Court in Mineola charging Ramzan Antooa, 38, of Elmont, with second-degree grand larceny, third-degree burglary, interference with or injury to certain domestic animals and fourth-degree criminal mischief, all felonies.
He's also charged with second-degree aggravated harassment and petit larceny, both misdemeanors.
Antooa, who had previously been charged with burglary and reckless endangerment of property, was released on his own recognizance. He faces a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.
"This defendant is accused of releasing a young racehorse named Pasta from her stall, causing the horse to become frightened and run onto blacktop where she fell and died a painful death," said Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas. "Every animal deserves to be treated with care and compassion and my Animal Crimes Unit remains committed to prosecuting this and all of our animal crimes cases."
Antooa and his Legal Aid attorney declined to comment following his arraignment Thursday.
Antooa had worked in the Belmont stables for Christophe Clement, Pasta's trainer, but was terminated in November 2019 for misconduct, officials said. He later sent several threatening messages to Clement, prosecutors said.
On July 30, Antooa, then working for another trainer, entered Stable Number 22 at Belmont and released Pasta, a two-year-old unraced female horse valued at more than $200,000, out of her stall, prosecutors said.
The horse became spooked, running around the barn and then outside on the blacktop, where it slipped to the ground, bleeding profusely, prosecutors said. Pasta died shortly thereafter.
Antooa remained at the scene and was arrested by Nassau County Police.
Reached by phone Thursday, Clement confirmed that Antooa was not working for him at the time of the incident but otherwise declined to comment.
Records show Antooa was originally issued a license by the New York State Gaming Commission to work at state racetracks in 2007 but was never employed by the New York Racing Assocation, which operates Belmont Park, Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course.
The New York State Gaming Commission suspended Antooa's license in July, records show. On Oct. 19 the commission voted unanimously to revoke Antooa's license for life.
"The hearing officer recommended that a violation of the rule prohibiting improper practices was established that Mr. Antooa lacked the general character and fitness to hold a racing license," Robert Williams, the commission's executive director said at the meeting.
NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said the association "supported and assisted Nassau County and relevant authorities both in the immediate aftermath of this deeply troubling incident and throughout their criminal investigation. We commend and appreciate the efforts of the Nassau County Police Department and Nassau County District Attorney that have resulted in the serious charges contained in today’s indictment."