Forgotten, But Not Gone: Some Veterinarians Have Gotten Through Hot Water And Kept Their Licenses

by | 03.07.2018 | 3:32pm

Some racetrack veterinarians have made headlines in unfortunate ways over the past few years. In 2015, Drs. Kevin Brophy, Fernando Motta, Christopher Korte, and Renee Nodine entered guilty pleas in federal charges of rigging publicly exhibited contests based on their administration of medications to horses within 24 hours of race time in Pennsylvania. In 2017, Dr. Kyle Hebert was found guilty in Louisiana on charges of conspiracy and misbranding of drugs related to his sale of dermorphin, an opioid reported to be more powerful than morphine. Also in 2017, Dr. Justin Robinson was named in a Texas Racing Commission hearing examining Class 1 positives in racehorses trained by AQHA champion conditioner Judd Kearl. In 2015, the Indiana Horse Racing Commission reached a settlement agreement with Dr. Ross Russell, who the commission claimed violated eight rules of racing related to medication on race day.

All of them still have active veterinary licenses, which means they are free to continue plying their trade.

How does veterinary regulation work?

A veterinarian working on the racetrack is subject to federal laws and state-level rules through the racing commission and the veterinary licensing board.

Veterinarians must follow Food and Drug Administration laws regarding safety, distribution and labeling of drugs (including misbranding, which was one of the areas which proved problematic for Hebert). The Drug Enforcement Administration governs use, handling, and record-keeping for controlled substances, including some used by veterinarians.

The license provided to veterinarians by state racing commissions allows them to practice on property under the commission's jurisdiction. Similarly to licensed grooms or trainers, a licensed veterinarian is required to adhere to all parts of state rules of racing in order to keep his racing license.

The veterinarian's license to practice veterinary medicine is separate from his or her racetrack license, and is handled by the state veterinary board – a completely different body from the racing commission. The board is comprised primarily of veterinarians, sometimes with one or two laypeople appointed to represent the perspective of the general public.

Each state has its own veterinary practice act establishing the veterinary board's existence and outlining requirements for licensure, a definition of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (which must be established for treatment), along with procedures for investigation and disciplinary action.

“As is typical with anything that's regulated on a state-by-state basis like horse racing, the left hand doesn't always talk to the right hand,” said Kentucky attorney Joel Turner. “There may not be anything in a particular state's practice code that would say if you're convicted of a crime, you lose your license.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association has a model veterinary practice act (similar to ARCI model rules in horse racing), which is guided by comments from member veterinarians and the public. The model practice act is revised from time to time in an attempt to keep standards current with technology and innovations in practice.

When it comes to disciplining licensees, the AVMA model practice act lists 20 different types of behaviors that can result in the limit, suspension or revocation of a license. Among other things, those behaviors include failure to keep accurate patient records, failure to keep premises and equipment clean and sanitary, discipline of a license in another state, and extra-label use of a drug in absence of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. The model act also states veterinarians can be subject to discipline for violations of state or federal drug laws, as well as conviction or plea of guilty to felonies, crimes related to animal cruelty/neglect, or “any crime of moral turpitude.”

Just like ARCI model rules though, some states' acts come closer than others to the suggested language. In Kentucky, the language and list are slightly different from the model act but do include a clause addressing “any act of dishonesty or corruption” including a crime, but states that “conviction in a criminal proceeding is not a condition precedent to disciplinary action.”

Other states, including Louisiana, require conviction in order to take action and are less specific about what type of legal trouble can land a vet in hot water with the licensing board. (Louisiana's act addresses “felony or other public offense involving moral turpitude.”)

The acts also lay out the proceedings for investigating an alleged violation. The board may take complaints from members of the public or other regulatory bodies, including lawyers. From there, the board staff will initiate an investigation and hold a hearing. The board may then issue its sanctions. In several veterinary practice acts we reviewed, the maximum fine that could be levied was $1,000, regardless of the offense.

As for actually revoking a license, it doesn't happen often.

“I think that's because there's a much less frequent occurrence among veterinarians where they're incarcerated or convicted of felonies. I'm really taxing my memory to try to come up with somebody,” said Turner.

How does veterinary discipline work in practice?

Veterinary boards aren't typically going out hunting for signs a licensee has violated their rules. Instead, they rely on someone to tell them when there may be a problem with a veterinarian.

“We find out about criminal matters generally through law enforcement agencies,” said Wanda Murren, Director of Communications and Press for the Pennsylvania Department of the State. “They know if they're dealing with a professional who has a license, they're supposed to notify the licensing entity, so we very often do learn about things like that from the law enforcement agencies. Sometimes we find out about things from the media and that might be the first clue we have that we need to take a look at something.”

Although there is no official policy on information sharing, racing officials in multiple jurisdictions confirm they will often take it upon themselves to alert the veterinary board to a racing commission action. Some say it's not always clear the veterinary boards welcome this information.

Rhea Loney, assistant state attorney general in Louisiana and counsel for the Louisiana Racing Commission, said she informs the veterinary board if she is aware of action against a licensee who violates the rules of the board.

“The way that it seems to work in Louisiana is early on when I was here we would reach out to the veterinary board when we would have an issue, and they would say something to the effect of, ‘If you guys have a proceeding against a veterinarian and you suspend or fine him, send us that information and we'll look at it and act at that point, potentially, depending on what it was,'” she said. “Usually I try to let these criminal things run through before we would reach out to the veterinary board. We'll contact the veterinary board and say ‘Are you aware of this?' and we'll make sure they have that information.”

Turner agreed that an arraignment or even a conviction isn't a guarantee the veterinary board will reach the same conclusion as prosecutors about a veterinarian's guilt.

“It's been my experience that these agencies are very reluctant to rubber stamp something that happens in the courtroom because they haven't had an opportunity to review the evidence themselves and they have an obligation to do so,” Turner said. “In many instances, because of the expense and whatnot, they allow that other body, whether it's a court or regulatory agency, to simply mete out the penalty they think is appropriate because they've seen all the evidence.”

Kyle Hebert's veterinary license was still active in Louisiana as of early 2018, despite a record that included a 2015 complaint alleging failure to establish a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship prior to prescribing a legend [prescription] drug, failure to maintain proper records, and allowing his office manager to prescribe drugs. Hebert had allegedly provided clenbuterol to a trainer in Alberta (where he is not licensed to practice) without properly establishing himself as the horses' veterinarian to be sure of why the medication was needed, then had his office manager get the drug directly in the hands of the trainer. Hebert was fined $1,000 and assessed a total of $1,500 for administrative costs by the board.

Loney anticipated submitting a report to the veterinary board after Hebert's sentencing in the federal case, which on Feb. 23 resulted in a $10,000 fine and 15 months in prison. His racing license has expired.

Even when veterinarians have their racetrack licensed revoked by the racing commission, the veterinary board may not be able to revoke its licensing. Drs. Nodine, Korte, Brophy, and Motta saw their racetrack licenses revoked in April 2015, days before they pleaded guilty on federal charges. The foursome still hold veterinary licenses in Pennsylvania because of a loophole in that state's practice act.

“Back when they entered their guilty pleas, our veterinary board staff started to proceed with disciplinary action,” said Murren. “They actually sent each of them what we call orders to show cause, which in a criminal case would be like the charging documents. These orders to show cause were sent out to the four people involved, and preliminary hearings were being scheduled.

“Then, someone became aware that the veterinary medical practice act in Pennsylvania does not allow us to take disciplinary action after a plea agreement, only after conviction. Then in another part of the practice act or court ruling or something, ‘conviction' was also interpreted to mean ‘sentencing.' So at that point, the orders to show cause were withdrawn, any hearings that were scheduled were continued. When they were withdrawn, they were withdrawn without prejudice, keeping open the possibility we could open something again.”

There is no sentencing hearing scheduled in any of the cases against those four veterinarians.

“It's not uncommon at all for all of our boards to wait and put off action until any criminal and civil action is entirely played out, because then the court record becomes a part of what the board looks at,” said Murren.

Murren said there have been nine veterinarians' licenses revoked since 2007 in Pennsylvania.

Florida's veterinary board has a bit more latitude to take disciplinary actions against racetrack veterinarians, because it does consider the action of another state's racing commission a violation of its practice act. Brophy's Florida license was put on probation for one year and he was charged over $1,000 in fines and administrative costs to the Florida board after they learned about the criminal case in Pennsylvania.

The Indiana Horse Racing Commission banned Dr. Ross Russell from racing licensure for nine years. (His Indiana veterinary license is shown as “probation/expired” on the board's website, with an expiration date of Oct. 2015). Russell also held a veterinary license in Florida, where the veterinary board levied a $1,000 fine and sentenced him to probation for the duration of his racetrack ban in Indiana. Russell does not have a racetrack license, but does have a practice about an hour north of Tampa Bay Downs.

“Racing Commission discipline is considered a possible violation under sections 474.214(10(b) and 474.214(1)(jj), F.S.,” said Kathleen Keenan, spokesperson for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in Florida.

In many cases, veterinary boards face the same challenge as pharmacy boards: stepping too far over the line could tempt a lawsuit. Keenan said that since 2002, Florida's veterinary board has revoked five veterinary licenses in total. She denies that relatively low number is due to fear of legal retribution.

“Possible or existing civil action is not a factor in discipline by the Board of Veterinary Medicine,” she said.

If a penalty seems abnormally harsh however, Turner says it's an invitation for attorneys like him to negotiate on behalf of their client.

“I think what it comes down to in a lot of cases is the expense associated with it, the burdens of proof, the constitutional challenges that might be brought against the agency for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Quite frankly I don't agree with it, but it's kind of an expense factor that decides whether they pursue the claim.”

What can consumers do to research a veterinarian before hiring one? Look them up. In most states, the veterinary board's website will give the public the opportunity to verify a veterinarian's license, and the ability to see whether there have been administrative actions against that licensee. A consumer's access to information will also vary by location, however. In some cases, we found a formal Freedom of Information Act request was required to get documentation detailing administrative actions, or in the case of Louisiana, to learn if there had been any administrative action taken on a licensee at all.

  • Hamish

    A rather protected species.

  • Billy

    Thank you for bringing this up paulick……its a sad state of affairs in pa sucks to know that brophy and motta got away with alot of crap in pa with no punishment…..having your license revoked on the track simply means you cant practice on racetrack grounds correct???? So they would be able to practice in say the parking lot across from the track? Druggin horses for money and thats ok oh my

    • David Dennison

      Billy, don’t be a hero.

    • Larry Ensor

      I used both of them years ago. Brophy moved to Florida and set up shop. Motta is trying to make a living being a farm vet. I doubt either are making the kind of money they were used to living on. If that is any consolation to ya.

      I live in Pa, from Maryland and lived in KY for over 20 years along with NY and FL, Had horses in CA. This nonsense goes on everywhere not just in PA. Give a little credit where credit is due. PA didn’t sweep it under the carpet.

      • Billy

        Yea i know the whole abba i believe the buissness is called….while i have respect for you larry your words of wisdom doing this for as long as you have….im a young guy from pa close to the track, i love all horses not just racehorses i have a certain respect for them….a respect that some people from pa will never have….i refuse to stand back and just allow what i know….and now while this might happen everywhere and pa is trying to bring things to light…..that doesnt change the fact that these so called trainers and vets are doing wrong and serving little to no punishment…..i dont know what to about it larry but i just cant sit back and ignore it the horses shouldnt have to suffer the way they do not one bit

        • Larry Ensor

          I hear what you are saying and totally agree. Personally I think they should have lost their license to practice anywhere for X amount of years.

          When I moved back to the area in 2004 Brophy came by the farm. He had left the track, split with his partners, Motta and one other. He pitched me his company ABBA. We had a lot of horse at that time, pre-crash days. I was quite shocked at the mark up other vets were charging me for the same basic meds every well run farm should have on hand.

          Pre-internet we had no way of knowing that a bottle of SMZs could be had retail for around $20. Not $50++. Everything was being marked up 100s%. Wish I could do the same for boarding, training, rehab etc, lol.

          After Motta pleaded and lost his racetrack license I still owed him around $600. (I didn’t hire him I was not the trainer at the track) Sent him a letter asking why I should pay him anything given what he pleaded guilty to. Was he working for me or against me?

          Found it kind of ironic to get a letter from the Stewards a few months later saying if I didn’t pay him our owner’s license would be suspended, lol.

          I can’t tell you what to do. I grew up in and around racing. “Backside” and “Frontside”. I’ve seen, heard just about everything. When I said, asked about stuff I was told to “sit down” and shut up. I was told I would never make it in this town because I have a big mouth. To some extent they were right. But I was right about everything I was trying to point out and what the end results maybe. I take no satisfaction in being right about things I would have rather been wrong about.

  • David Dennison

    Bandstand Hal got over-served one night in 2016 and drove his car into a heated pool in Beverly Hills. He kept his license – now that’s getting out of hot water.

  • Bryan Langlois

    A very good and accurate description of the process Natalie, and a lot of the loopholes and problems that State Boards run into at times. A lot of times Vets may be guilty of a lot of things that are not right, but they are not guilty of any wording in the Practice Act. Opening up the Practice Act in most states presents its own can of worms for us in the Vet Profession, as the entire Act is then open to have things changed by amendments which can hurt the profession overall. I know that may seem like a selfish way to look at it from my end, being a vet, but I do have concerns about the Act being opened in PA to change things with the possibility existing that someone could get an amendment in stating that a procedure or task that now must be done by a vet who has the proper training can instead be done by a laymen or tech with certain training. That poses a risk not only to the livelihood of the profession but to the animal as well. OK…enough of the soapbox digression.
    The other main issue we face in most cases is the process of a complaint being worked from start to ruling by the board can be painfully slow as well. As was described above, it can take years to get a case before the board. This is partly because of the fact that the Board is seeing more and more complaints against vets from angry owners (most of these are frivolous complaints that are made because despite us as vets telling the owner there is only a 5% chance of their animal surviving this procedure and us describing all that can go wrong….we somehow were negligent when the animal doesn’t pull through) that all have to be researched by an ever shortening staff of investigators thanks to constant state funding shortfalls, and partly because the process itself can be quite drawn out and lawyers can argue for delays and continuances that are all designed to delay hearings and give their clients more time under a “stay” that is properly warranted for them under the rights of due process. One other thing to remember is that, unlike regular courtrooms that usually hear cases every day, the Board only meets on average once a month. This means that the hearing has to often wait to get scheduled at that time, and if there are not enough Board members at that meeting for a quorum then no official action can be taken anyway, delaying things even further.
    Finally, it is true that most sanctions that might involve a severe fine or license suspension/revocation will be appealed to the state commonwealth court level. Often times these cases are won on appeal because everyone has to remember the Board is not made of lawyers. They are usually mostly in the vet field in some way and have to rely on the advice their legal counsel is giving them on the legality of what punishment they are laying out. I do think this holds some Boards back and it is not uncommon for the prosecutor working for the state board to work out plea deals for much lower penalties and fines to prevent a hearing in the first place. That being said, I do wish in some cases where the cases were really strong against an offender the State would fight them out in court through the appeals process. It would allow for more case law to be established that would make prosecuting these cases perhaps a little easier in the future. They would have to be real solid cases though as I said, because that can work against you if the appeal of a higher court sides with the defendant, thus making the case law work against you instead of for you in future cases.
    It is an issue not easily fixed on any level. Not at least with major changes to the system as it stands now anyway. Sometimes all we can do is report it as best we can in good faith and hope that the Powers that be also see how scary and dangerous the acts of some of these vets can be for the heath of the horses and jockeys that are racing.

    • Doc

      If you want to do some good for the race horses of the world why don’t you look into the unlicensed practice of Veterinary Medicine? This is a clear violation of most practice acts and is common in the Standard Bred world.

      • Bryan Langlois

        Completely agree…and it is a big issue right now in all realms of vet med. I can’t speak for other states and the way their practice acts are written, but would imagine there is a common theme in some of them with this…and that is the State Board operates in the civil realm, which means the most they can do is levy fines. It is kind of a loophole of sorts. If all the State Board can do is levy a fine for practicing without a license, and the State does not follow up on collecting the fines, where is the real reason for these people to stop?? There really is none. Heck…why would you if you know that…sure…you might get some fines…but they are not going to follow up on actually collecting them. There has to be better teeth into the penalties, and that can only come with criminal convictions that involve jail time. The only way to make that work is prove the practice that these people are doing is causing harm to the horses. I can make the argument it is because these people are not properly trained and have ulterior motives than the health and welfare of the horse. You have to have the evidence to present a judge or jury on that part and go after them on animal cruelty charges and not practicing without a license charge. In order to do that, people have to be willing to testify against these people as witnesses. We all know most people know what is going on at a track and who is doing it, but when it comes time to try and get these people charged or the witnesses to testify…they refuse for fear of reprisal.
        So…either we find some way to add criminal penalties to the Practice Act, or people have to start being willing to testify against these people.

  • Kevin Callinan

    I think it’s time for PA to drop the pretense and welcome every trainer and vet who is on suspension. The racing will be fair- the public will know that each horse is potentially enhanced…. horse racing’s version of Devil’s Island.

    • MsMarianne

      Ha Ha Ha

  • Another stellar job by Natalie. Thanks young lady.

  • perks

    good article :) I was wondering why Robinson was still in business. Is there anything pending with him? “in 2017, Dr. Justin Robinson was named in a Texas Racing Commission hearing examining Class 1 positives in racehorses trained by AQHA champion conditioner Judd Kearl.”

    • Natalie Voss

      Hello perks, There were no administrative actions visible on his license in the system as of last week. A pending investigation would not show up there however, and generally vet boards will not confirm or deny the existence of one.

      • perks

        Thanks Natalie :)

        • kim

          Natalie you rock

    • Tres Abagados Stupidos

      He currently does not have his vet license. It is suspended. It was not because of any of the Texas Racing Commission actions. From what I understand it is because he did not do his continuing education courses that all vets are required to do. Hard to do those classes when you are “hiding out” in Oklahoma.

      • perks


      • kim

        Ya we all know he’s still in business

  • Reminds me of a guy near me that has had 8 dui’s 3 injury acedents (permanantly disabeling a mother of two) due process allowes him to still drive because i guess not being able to drive would impact his buisness and income .. and he just got another dui after crashing into a parked fire .truck, five days jail … still driving

    • Minneola

      Unfortunately, we (the public) have become too used to the idea of accommodating people who failed in the “school of life” for too many reasons, i.e., excuses. And, in the process of being far too kind-hearted towards these individuals, there are multitudes of others who are the innocent victims that pay the price. It starts in elementary school by the educational system passing students who fail (often because they just aren’t willing to do the work) and it continues through their lives. We cry crocodile tears but others cry the tears of losing loved ones. Perhaps, one solution would be to vote out of office all of the career politicians and starting anew. We need to send a message that the public needs laws that are meaningful and enforced to the maximum. But, it goes back to the public. We allow too much of what is going on.

      • Billy

        Public pressure is what is changing this game nothing else imo

        • Minneola

          I would wish that is true but I have seen so little in any changes in racing, with or without public pressure. Quite frankly, I suspect that those in racing don’t give any thought about what the public thinks with the exception of one thing: whether the public continues wagering in this sport. But, with other very major pro sports knocking on the door to gain the same kind of wagering opportunities for their fans, similar to what racing has enjoyed for many decades, this may become a moot point if racing fades into oblivion. But, then, what will all of those who make decisions in racing do? Cry the blues. Boo-hoo-hoo.

  • Ben van den Brink

    That,s about it.

  • Minneola

    Interesting story but, at the same time, very discouraging. Imagine a convicted bank robber trying to, later, get a job in a bank. It wouldn’t happen. So, why are these vets, who display anything but the safety and welfare of their “patients” to continue in this charade? Strip them of their licenses! They chose their path and their path was not one of making a bad decision in an “oopsy” moment but one of deliberation. They do not deserve to be working in their profession!

    • Guest

      Stripping them of their licenses removes their ability to earn a living. They are entitled to due process and the severity of the punishment should fit the crime.

      • Minneola

        You sound a bit like an apologist for the behavior of those vets who know better than to do what is NOT in the best interest in their horses. They should have thought about the consequences of their actions beforehand. It has always been their choice, So, yes, they will be stripped of their ability to continue earning a living as vet. That punishment does fit the crime. They should have thought of that but, perhaps, they assumed that there will be others in the racing industry that will
        provide them the cover they need to avoid the repercussions. Due process is a ruse in some quarters for that very reason. However, I wouldn’t worry about their inability to earn a living. I understand that Amazon is hiring in their warehouses.

    • McGov

      Because if they took their licenses away, then who would fill the void?? Most large animal vets wouldn’t consider servicing horse racing clients.
      There are doctors that save people lives….and there are doctors that appease the vane ambitions of the wild and crazy…..which would you choose if you were a doctor?
      Some people care more about money then anything else and whether it is “treating” horses in horse racing or ” caring” for people regarding plastic surgery….there is LOTS of money to be made…if you’re willing.
      These “vets” are more than willing. Governors of such predicaments likely look at it like it’s time to change the bit versus it’s time to retire the unruly horse.

  • Larry Ensor

    This will have me chuckling for a long time. Well said!!

    Sad but true.

  • kim

    Great article ray! Yes why can they still practice ? Yet trainers get years

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