Until then the New Jersey state police only suspected that Ciulla was the head of a team that had used tranquilizers, jockeys and trainers to fix dozens of races in New Jersey during 1974 and 1975. But the recording of the Fantini conversation helped convict Ciulla on six counts of conspiracy to commit sports bribery and he was sentenced to four to six years.
It wasn't Ciulla's first contact with the police during his fixing career. In 1971 he wound up in trouble when Bobby Byrne—who would later detail his own career as a race fixer before the Select Committee on Crime of the U.S. House of Representatives—was caught by police climbing the fence at Suffolk Downs with hypodermic needles and syringes. Byrne, who had been a runner for Ciulla, told on his former boss and his crew of veterinarians, exercise boys and jockeys. Ciulla was convicted of drugging horses in Massachusetts and bribing racing officials in Rhode Island. Byrne's testimony in Washington also alluded to a jockey who helped him set up the fixed races. "...He is in charge of the—like the Jockeys' Guild in the New England area. And he happens to be the thousand-dollar guy. You would have to pay him a thousand dollars up front." Ciulla maintains the jockey is Norman Mercier, who has been a vice-president of the Jockeys' Guild for New England since 1969, and who claims he doesn't know Ciulla.
As Ciulla sat in his prison cell on the Atlantic City conspiracy charges, he began to get nervous about the five more years looming in the Rhode Island case. At the same time, Thomas Daly, an FBI agent in Boston, was developing a major case involving a conspiracy to fix races in at least six states. Next, members of the Pennsylvania state police began pointing accusing fingers at Ciulla. "I knew before I got out of jail I'd be as dead as Man O' War," Ciulla says.
Kaufmann and Thomas Daly then made Ciulla an offer. If he would testify in grand jury proceedings and trials in the six states, he probably would have to serve only a little more than 20 months of the four- to six-year Atlantic City sentence and other charges would be dropped. The U.S. Department of Justice would give him immunity from any further prosecution—except for lying under oath. And eventually the U.S. Marshal Service would relocate Ciulla. Ciulla accepted the offer and is now a member of the Federal Witness Program, with a new identity.
While he was operating, Ciulla had to learn which jockeys would pull and which would not at a specific track. Even a few hard-up riders at Rockingham refused to hold horses. On rare occasions a supposedly "safe" fixed jockey would be unable to deliver. This happened in the ninth race at Garden State on Dec. 21, 1974, Ciulla says, when Kallai lost the reins on Way to Reason and yelled to Jockey Ralph Baker, whose mount was ranging alongside, to hit the horse in the face "to stop this——." Baker obliged, but Way to Reason couldn't be stopped. Ciulla has testified that Kallai told him what had happened, and Baker offered confirmation.
Hearing that he had cost Ciulla $10,000, Kallai volunteered to compensate by keeping an even-money favorite off the board in a race he was to ride the next day at Keystone. Ciulla, who knew that the favorite in a trifecta draws about 60% of the betting, was agreeable. He said he and Kevin Daly got three other riders in the race to hold their horses. "I won the trifecta," Ciulla has testified, "and I gave Kallai a $2,000 tip."
One thing Ciulla learned quickly in his career was not to depend on a battery, a device which gives a horse a moderate shock; drugs were safer. Exercise boys used batteries on hundreds of horses for him, but only one horse, Robert Kope, secretly owned by Ciulla, responded to it. If you can't make a horse win, Ciulla says, you can certainly make him lose, and he experimented with countless drugs. He claims that one of his crew, a man named Oscar Friedman, also known as "Fat Jerry" and "Dr. Mule," who was one of the eight individuals recently indicted in Detroit, always got him the latest drug that a chemist bootlegged from drug laboratories. Not all drugs worked. Ciulla found cocaine and Sublimaze useless, and once at Detroit Race Course he recalls, "I gave a filly a drug that was guaranteeed to 'finesse' her nervous system. It killed her."
Acepromazine, a tranquilizer, was a standby. But grooms who were afraid to touch a needle were happy to take $100 or so to tuck tiny vials of mercury into a horse's ankle bandages. The heavy mercury affects the horse's balance. During the ninth race at Aqueduct on May 22, 1970, Mincing Lane wobbled so badly that Cordero pulled him up so the horse would not break down. "This time Cordero didn't know the race was fixed," says Ciulla.
But druggings were only one phase of Ciulla's operations. He would use almost any method—and any opportunity—to do business. For example, he played several tricks with a horse called Heed the Call. The horse ran under the silks of Fred P. Meagher, a wealthy suburban Philadelphia contractor, and was trained by Wayne Leasure, who, according to TRPB reports, had been an associate of Ciulla and Ciulla's crew. On Labor Day 1975 Meagher had a large party at Keystone to see Heed the Call run, because Ciulla says he had guaranteed him a win when Meagher bought the horse. Meagher had the satisfaction of watching his horse win, and Ciulla, who guaranteed the win by stopping several horses in the race, had the satisfaction of cashing trifecta tickets that paid $363.60.
In his various, and widespread, dealings with trainers, Ciulla always expected cooperation, because, as he says, "Any trainer with the sense God gave a goose had to know what I did, and that they'd come out smelling like a rose."