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Team Oracle USA Faces Charges In SF Of Improperly Modified Race Boats

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Before defending their title as America's Cup champions in the finals of the regatta in San Francisco next month, Oracle Team USA officials will first have to defend themselves at a hearing Thursday on allegations that the team illegally modified its boats.

The America's Cup International Jury is hearing the allegations at a hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday at Pier 23. Race officials said the hearing is closed to the public.

The International Jury, a five-person panel tasked with resolving disputes over rules for the race, is investigating allegations that Oracle illegally modified its AC45 boats during exhibition races in 2012 and earlier this year.

The boats are smaller versions of the 72-foot catamarans being used in the upcoming America's Cup Finals, where Oracle will face Emirates Team New Zealand starting Sept. 7.

Oracle allegedly had additional weight in the forward king posts of the boats, in violation of race rules. The modifications were discovered recently during inspections of the boats, which are being used in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup beginning Sunday.

Oracle Team USA was ordered to return trophies that it won in the America's Cup World Series exhibition races, which took place in San Francisco and Rhode Island last year and in Italy last April.

Team CEO Russell Coutts wrote in an e-mail to the jury that he "had no knowledge whatsoever" of the alleged illegal modifications and that they were apparently made by a small number of team members without the knowledge of management.

The jury's rules stipulate that the panel can ban a person or team from future races if it finds misconduct.

This year's regatta has already been litigious -- the International Jury in July upheld a challenge by two teams who opposed changes being ordered by the America's Cup race director, primarily a proposal to modify rudders on the boats.

Earlier this month, Oracle filed a protest with the jury alleging that Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Challenge, an Italian team, had trespassed onto the U.S. team's AC45 boats in an "illegal act."

Days later, Oracle withdrew its protest and was ordered by the jury to pay $5,000 for the costs of holding a hearing and considering the allegations.

The legal wrangling has been just one of the challenges in the America's Cup in San Francisco.

Artemis Racing, a Sweden-based team that was one of just three challengers to Oracle, had sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson die when the team's boat capsized during a practice run in May, prompting regatta officials to implement new safety reforms for the races.

The number of challengers, far below initial estimates, has also led to struggles by race organizers to raise enough money to recoup the city for costs related to the races.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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