Laurel Raceway officials were called into the state attorney general's office yesterday to discuss problems with the harness tracks's annual audit being conducted for the State Racing Commission by Ernst & Ernst.
According to Greta Shamy, the track president and daughter of Daniel Rizk, the track's majority stockholder, the problems were not so much with the audit as with the auditors.
"This whole thing could have been settled in five minutes for $1.15, the price of a phone call from my home in New Jersey," Shamy declared. "Our talk with Mr. (Francis B.) Burch today centered on two dispersement in three checks, a total dispersement of $180,000 to $190,000 to Advance City Equipment Co. and BBI Construction."
Leonard Lockhart, the track's lawyer, contended, "Everything is listed and will be confirmed. It's all so innocuous. There's been no skimming. I'm amazed, but I'm happy with the way proceedings were handled today.
Laurel Raceway has had financial diffuculties, however. There have been 17 lawsuits filed in Howard County Circuit Court for more than $410,000, mostly by subcontractors involved in the track's modernization program, which included a new clubhouse and cost more than $3.5 million.
Ernst & Ernst audits the records of all Maryland race tracks for the Racing Commission. When the firm reported discrepancies in Laurel's figures, Ben Schwartz, harness board chairman, requested that all parties appear before Burch, the attorney general.
Roberts Buch, a spokesman for Ernst & Ernst, declined to respond specifically to the criticism made by Laurel Raceway. "We went back to the commission for further instructions," Bush said. "They asked us to report back to them by Friday and to make no comment in the meantime. We will do that, although it's very difficult to remain quiet when one party is doing a lot of talking, when our integrity is being questioned.
"By Friday we will have a comment. Certainly what Laure Raceway is doing represents a very unprofessional attitude. These things should be conducted in boardrooms, not in newspapers."
"We blame Ernst & Ernst for what has happened," Shamy said. "We've requested they use Price-waterhouse in the future."
Burch said he met with the harness board and the auditors yesterday as well as representatives of Laurel Raceway.
"We believe there is the possibility of these problems being resolved to the near future," the attorney general said. "Everything revolves around certain accounting procedures and problems."