The Indiana Horse Racing Commission has reached a settlement agreement with Dr. Ross Russell, the racetrack veterinarian who was ruled off last October by then-IHRC executive director Joe Gorajec for a spate of alleged medication violations in an administrative complaint that said Russell's “ethical compass is broken” and that he “embodies the worst stereotypes of a racetrack practitioner.”
Russell, a 32-year-old graduate of Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, was summarily suspended in September 2014 after a security worker employed by Indiana Grand racetrack said she saw him inject a horse with a substance other than Lasix on race-day. That triggered an investigation leading to the administrative complaint filed a month later.
The settlement agreement, subject to the review and approval of the commission members, calls for a nine-year license suspension (Sept. 20, 2014-Sept. 20, 2023), along with a three-year period (Sept. 21, 2023-Sept 21, 2026) during which Russell will not seek a license from the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, plus a $12,000 fine.
As part of the agreement, the commission staff “agrees to make a recommendation to the Indiana Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners that it take no disciplinary action relative to Dr. Russell's veterinary license.”
Russell agreed to dismiss and/or withdraw all legal administrative proceedings and public records requests and release all claims or potential claims against the commission and staff (former and current).
The IHRC meets Dec. 9 in a regular and executive session, when it is expected to consider the settlement agreement. The agreement was reached between Russell and Deena Pitman, named the commission's interim executive director in October after Gorajec's employment was terminated after nearly 25 years.
Russell, who along with his attorney, Peter Sacopulos, signed the agreement Nov. 6, acknowledged eight rule violations:
71 IAC 5.5-1-28 “Cooperation with Investigations”;
71 IAC 5.5-1-29 “Reporting known or suspected irregularities and rule violations”;
71 IAC 8.5-1-1.5 “Medication”;
71 IAC 8.5-1-2 “Foreign substances prohibited”;
71 IAC 8.5-4-2 “Prohibited acts”;
71 IAC 8.5-4-5 “Records of treatment”;
71 IAC 8.5-4-12 “Contact with entered horses”; and
71 IAC 8.5-5-2 “Prohibited practices.”
The Oct. 23, 2014, complaint, which recommended a 20-year suspension and $20,000 fine, said Russell “repeatedly lied” to commission staff investigating his veterinary practice, furnished injectable bottles and loaded syringes to trainers to administer to their horses, broke regulations by being in the stall of horses on race-day, deceitfully altered medical records and used a “code” to hide unlawful medications, and gave non-FDA approved drugs to horses, in violation of Indiana regulations.
In one instance, the complaint cited a horse that had been treated by Russell as testing for 1,127 parts per billion for cobalt after being claimed by one of his clients. In the race prior to being claimed, the horse tested for 18.6 ppb of cobalt. There was no regulation for cobalt use at the time, but shortly thereafter Indiana became the first state to set a threshold level of 25 ppb.
After being ruled off in Indiana last fall, Russell relocated to Florida, where he set up a veterinary practice on private property near Tampa Bay Downs. He was not permitted to practice on-track.
Click here to read the settlement agreement, which is subject to approval by the Indiana commissioners.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.