SI Vault
Gerald Strine
March 08, 1976
In a caper worthy of Newman and Redford, a horseman won the confidence of a bank and three racetracks, and then, says the FBI, took them for a cool million and skipped
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March 08, 1976

The Sting

In a caper worthy of Newman and Redford, a horseman won the confidence of a bank and three racetracks, and then, says the FBI, took them for a cool million and skipped

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Grenada, the southernmost of the Windwards, is one of those tiny Caribbean islands chock full of sugar 'n' spice 'n' everything nice, especially spice. Nutmeg, tonka beans, pimento, sapote, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, bay leaves, turmeric and black pepper give the mountainous, thickly wooded island its zing. Jennifer Hosten, Grenada's Miss World of 1970, is surely everything nice. But take a closer look at one John Clancy, who may be observed at Langley Yachts.

Clancy, formerly Eugene Zeek, works out of St. George's, the capital city. He is 45 years old, and he has the capital in his pocket, in two ways, having allegedly perpetrated the greatest fraud in the long history of American horse racing—a $1 million rip-off. "It was one of the classic cons of our time," an FBI man ruefully concedes. "Where no extradition treaty exists, there is nothing we can do. The extradition policy of such a nation is whatever the head man says it is." The present head man of Grenada, Prime Minister Dr. The Hon. Eric M. Gairy, O.L., K.G.C., F.R.S.A., J.P., shows no inclination to be inhospitable to Clancy/Zeek. So Eugene Zeek is safe and sound. This visitor knows, having dropped in on him last week. He was not happy to be called upon, even though it was a renewal of a racetrack acquaintanceship. And the object of the visit was merely to tell him how his achievement is beginning to get the recognition it deserves—that he is becoming the man of the moment among racing fans.

Not since Newman and Redford has a sting seemed to so amuse the race-wise. A sampling of opinion at Garden State Park in New Jersey last week found parimutuel plungers who knew of Zeek ready to award him an Oscar. It was "local boy makes good," Zeek's home base once having been nearby Cherry Hill.

"Jail, hell! They ought to put him in the Hall of Fame at Saratoga," one bettor declared. "Anybody that can beat three tracks and a bank, I'm for 'em."

Penn National and Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania and Laurel in Maryland are the tracks Zeek beat. By the time Zeek was finished cashing bad checks at the three tracks between Dec. 14 and Dec. 30, 1973, Penn National was out $407,600, Liberty Bell $616,200 and Laurel $74,500. The other victim, probably the ultimate victim, is the Bank of West Jersey, Delran, N.J. The bank is very angry at the racetracks. The racetracks are very angry at the bank. And down in Grenada, secure in the second-floor office of the yacht yard, protected from inopportune questions by strong-looking men and a phalanx of secretaries, sits Eugene Zeek, who is not talking to anybody. But how in the name of greed, cupidity, stupidity and liquidity could it have happened? Sit down, friend, fill your glass, and we will begin at the beginning. Here is how the offended parties and the FBI—Wanted: Eugene Zeek; Armed and Dangerous—reconstruct it.

Eugene Zeek was not a likely candidate for a Caribbean caper, a big (6'2", 250 pounds), friendly man who trained 30 to 40 horses on the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland circuit. "The only thing that ever made me wonder about him was the way he seemed to have a pistol with him all the time," says a fellow trainer. "And he lived good, even had a private plane. We just thought he needed it to get around to the two or three tracks where he was running horses."

How good was Zeek living? His gross income grew to more than $200,000 a year. He was the leading trainer at Penn National in 1973, with 118 winners. He had a jockey who was very successful on the three-state circuit, Karl Korte. He had the plane.

And he had a habit of cashing large checks at racetracks. Every day. When thoroughbred racing began at Liberty Bell in 1969, Zeek was there. During the summer meeting of 1970 he cashed $180,000 worth of personal checks. This evidently aroused no concern. Trainers sometimes need large sums of money quickly to claim or privately buy horses.

Along came Penn National. When that track began operating near Harrisburg in 1972 it quickly found itself in a struggle to survive. The directors lacked experience in racetrack management. The mutuel handle was low. When Zeek came in with a big string of horses and a big bankroll and a story that he represented a gambling syndicate, the Penn National people were impressed. By late 1972 Zeek was cashing three personal checks a day at the track—every day. During 1973 the numbers on his checks steadily increased, but the pattern was the same, indeed it was a ritual: three big checks every day.

On May 9, 1973, for example, the checks were for $10,300, $9,900 and $7,600, a total of $27,800. By June 9 they were $10,200, $9,800 and $10,800, a total of $30,800. By August the daily total was up to $39,000, in September more than $40,000, in October $42,000, in November a shade higher. Nor, apparently, was Zeek less attentive to his money management at Liberty Bell.

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