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When Consolato Errico was an eighth-grader in Brooklyn, N.Y., his teacher asked him what he'd like to be when he grew up. "I want to be a jockey," Errico said, "and that's all I'll ever want to be." The teacher said, "Consolato, we can't bring horses into the school to teach you that. You better think about doing something else." But Errico remained adamant in his ambition, and his mother was called to the school for a conference with her son and the teacher. It was decided that Consolato would study bookkeeping at Roosevelt High School. "I hated bookkeeping," he says.
In 1942, at age 21, Errico went to work on the New York racetracks, as a hot walker in the employ of Preston Burch, one of racing's finest trainers. Following a tour of military service, he finally got to ride his first race at the age of 24, fulfilling a dream that had started when, at the age of 10, he began filling giant scrap-books with pictures of famous jockeys.
Eventually, Errico grew into a legend of sorts in New York racing circles, as well as a curiosity. He dressed well and became a magnificent dancer, twisting many nights away in the 1960s. He was an excellent shortstop on the jockeys' softball team, married a gorgeous Copacabana girl and was befriended by Jockey Club members, social pretenders, politicians, sportswriters and two-buck horseplayers. He always had entr�e to the best racing parties. Had a modeling agency wanted the perfect jockey, it would have selected Errico. He looked the way a jockey should look. Indeed, he once did appear in an ad—for the New York Racing Association.
But as a race rider, things always seemed to go wrong for Errico. He was suspended more than 50 times for rough riding and suffered a series of serious injuries to his hips and ribs and pelvis. While he never rode in the Kentucky Derby, Errico did have some good days on good horses. The most prestigious race he ever won was the 1949 Travers on Arise.
Everyone called Errico "Scamp," and he loved the nickname. "I got it when I was a kid because I was a scamp, always in trouble," he says. Along the way he changed his first name from Consolato to Con.
Last week Con (Scamp) Errico, 58, was in serious trouble, having been swiftly convicted by a jury in a federal court in his old hometown on a racketeering charge based on the bribing of other jockeys to fix races in New York State in 1974-75. He could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in jail and fined as much as $25,000. Better he should have stuck to bookkeeping.
Errico is the 23rd jockey, gambler, organized crime figure, trainer or owner found guilty on charges related to race fixing in state and federal cases since Anthony Ciulla (SI, Nov. 6, 1978), a convicted fixer himself, alleged that there was a massive race-rigging conspiracy in the mid-1970s. Sixteen others pleaded guilty to similar charges and seven more are fugitives. Nine were acquitted, six had their cases severed and two wound up with hung juries. About 100 races, it turns out, were rigged in five states, at Pocono Downs, Garden State, Suffolk Downs, Detroit Race Course, Hazel Park, Aqueduct and even Saratoga, the so-called Dowager Queen of the American Turf.
The Brooklyn jury deliberated less than five hours in convicting Errico after a six-day trial. He was, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, one of the key men in a scam of incredible proportions in New York. The department's Organized Crime Strike Force maintains that in 1974-75 a group of gamblers, working for organized crime elements, won huge exacta and trifecta bets on rigged races and lugged hundreds of thousands of dollars out of New York tracks.
Errico's trial proved to be the most spectacular of the cases yet to reach court, because many of the sport's outstanding performers were also accused of participating in the fixing of races. The Strike Force will now try to get Errico to cooperate in subsequent investigations involving jockeys he is suspected of bribing.
Errico was convicted, for the most part, on the testimony of three other riders: Jose Amy, Mike Venezia and Ben Feliciano. Feliciano was convicted of race fixing in Maryland in 1975 in an unrelated case. Testifying under immunity, they said Errico gave or offered them bribes ranging from $1,500 to $7,500 to "hold" their horses. But it was Amy, whose words were spoken in Spanish and translated to the jury, who was the most compelling witness against Errico.