North Carolina

‘Let this be a lesson’ says NC opioid treatment doctor going to prison for tax evasion 

A doctor who treats Charlotte area opioid addicts will spend a year and a day in prison for income tax evasion, a federal judge in Charlotte ruled.

Dr. David Russell owns Carolina Energetics PC, a Salisbury-based opioid treatment clinic which has other locations in Charlotte and Hickory.

“Let this be a lesson to anyone who doesn’t intend to follow the law,” Russell told The Charlotte Observer in a phone interview Friday. “I think the judge’s decision was very fair, and I accept his judgment.”

Russell, who lives in the Montgomery County town of Star, explained his tax troubles stemmed from “a lot of bad advice” from “tax-help groups.” He says he turned to groups that purported to help people with tax issues after he got soaked out of $15,000 by two “legitimate tax agencies.”

In November 2018, Russell pleaded guilty to felony attempt to evade or defeat tax, according to documents in U.S. District Court in Charlotte.

The 66-year-old doctor tried to “thwart” IRS efforts to collect six years worth of taxes, according to a U.S. Justice Department news release this week.

Russell did so, according to court documents, in part by ignoring a summons to appear before an IRS collections officer. When the IRS got a court order mandating that he show up, Russell “provided minimal information and omitted records related to any financial accounts and assets he may have had,” according to the Department of Justice release.

Court records show Russell also hid assets from the IRS by depositing his paychecks on a reloadable debit card and by issuing wages in his company’s name and not his name. Russell also used a business to pay personal expenses and failed to pay taxes on time for the years 2013 through 2015, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad in Charlotte has ordered Russell must pay a $10,000 fine. Court records show Russell and prosecutors agreed that he also would pay $290,487 in restitution.

While he’s in prison, another doctor has a federal waiver that permits him to serve Russell’s patients who are in treatment for substance abuse, Russell said.

“My patients are protected,” he said, while acknowledging it may be difficult for some to suddenly not have him around.

He said he is now paid up on various years of taxes, including 2019, and has put away another $80,000 toward the amount he still owes for other years.

Russell told the Observer he does not yet know when he is expected to report to prison nor which corrections facility he’ll be assigned to.

“They’re giving me time to arrange my affairs,” he said Friday.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.