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All of these jockeys, as well as the others, past and present, named by Ciulla, deny his accusations. After all, they were among the top money-winners. But, Ciulla says, "They were getting cash. It doesn't show on taxes. And these guys lead a fast life. They like to live big." He also has told federal authorities that his intermediaries paid off some jockeys in cash and at other times with cocaine.
Ciulla's beneficence was such a windfall to some jockeys that they regretted seeing him leave an area. For example, Ciulla says that on May 27, 1975, the closing day of New Jersey's Garden State spring meeting, he had Jockey Kevin Daly, acting as paymaster, give $1,500 to Verardi, $800 to Guadalupe, $800 to Ortiz and, because he was riding a 2-to-1 favorite and wouldn't sell cheap, $3,000 to Solomone. All of these jockeys had mounts in the ninth race. Ortiz finished fifth, Solomone seventh, Guadalupe eighth and Verardi ninth and last. Once Ciulla got the net from the trifecta tickets, which paid $239.70 apiece, he wisely realized that he had been around the area long enough and that the owner of the horse that Solomone rode would undoubtedly complain about the race, which he did—to the police.
Now 35, Ciulla was born in Boston, the son of a hardworking fish merchant who was an avid horseplayer. Ciulla practically grew up on the hot dogs that his father passed to him through the wire fence around Suffolk Downs, children not being allowed at the track then.
By the time Ciulla was 19 the race-track held no romantic visions for him, and he and some older acquaintances were using drugs, jockeys and trainers to fix races at fairs in Great Barrington, Berkshire Downs and Northampton. Subsequently, he and an expanded crew moved their operations to Suffolk Downs, Rockingham, Lincoln Downs and Narragansett, and by the time he was 26 the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau had barred Ciulla from entering the 55 tracks the TRPB policed. Over the years the bureau alerted police and track officials on how Ciulla operated from off-track bases in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Florida. Still, he was hard to stop.
"In Maryland we fixed races at Bowie, Laurel, Pimlico and even little Timonium," Ciulla says. "Dozens and dozens of races at Delaware Park. Pennsylvania? At Liberty Bell, Keystone, Penn National and, in the biggest laugh of all, when I took my family on a vacation in the mountains and stopped at Pocono Downs.... That was like shooting fish in a barrel."
Undoubtedly, Ciulla would have cashed many more tickets on fixed races if Peter Fantini, a New Jersey jockey, had shown more skill in trying to hold a horse in the ninth race on July 4, 1975 at Atlantic City. Detective Sergeant Karl Kaufmann of the New Jersey State Police Intelligence Bureau says, "No wonder there's nobody anywhere who'll argue that Ciulla isn't the No. 1 race fixer of all time. We'd never have got him if this Fantini hadn't jerked his reins so hard that he came out of the gate like it's the Lone Ranger's horse."
Called before suspicious stewards at Atlantic City, Fantini became the first jockey to reveal that horses were being held for Ciulla. At the time, Fantini's agent, Louis Menna, was being questioned by the police for passing bad checks, and he wanted a trade. If the police would drop the investigation of Menna, he and Fantini would tell about the fixer—they only knew him as "Tony"—operating from penthouse suites 302A and 302B at the Flamingo Motel in Atlantic City.
When Fantini arrived at the motel on the night of July 16, 1975, Ciulla didn't suspect the jockey wore a body recorder that transmitted their conversation to a car where Kaufmann and Detective John Carney taped it. Ciulla had reason to speak with confidence. A few days earlier, he says now, he had even given Fantini a $1,000 bonus for holding a heavily favored horse, Very Brave. He also says he had given J. P. Verrone, the jockey who was his principal intermediary at Atlantic City, $3,000 to divide with three other riders to pull their horses.
During the hour-long conversation, the recording reveals that Fantini lamented about the "heat over a couple of oddson chalks getting beat." He drew Ciulla's instant reaction: "When you're stealing, you've got to take heat. The two thousand I'm giving you is better than having $35 at the end of the week."
Brazenly, Fantini asked for a $100 advance on the next "8-to-5 shot" that he would hold. Then he asked how he could improve his holding techniques. "None of that bull...just diving off a horse like you're in a swimming pool," Ciulla snapped. They discussed which jockeys and trainers would or would not fix a race. "We've got an army full of people holding," Verrone said.