Mass. dentist found guilty of bilking patients

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office has obtained a judgment against former dentist Gary Anusavice, 57, of East Greenwich, RI, resolving allegations that he orchestrated an unlawful dental treatment and financing scheme at three high-volume dental clinics he allegedly opened and managed: Fall River-based Spectrum Dental, later known as Coast Dental, and Weymouth-based Sierra Dental.

The judgment calls for Anusavice to pay the commonwealth of Massachusetts $237,500 for victim restitution, civil penalties, and attorney's fees and costs, and permanently prohibits him from operating any entity that provides or markets dental services in the commonwealth. The judgment also prohibits Anusavice from participating in any way in any business that obtains or otherwise arranges credit or loans for consumers in the commonwealth.

"The victims in this case were coerced into signing up for extensive dental treatment and financing that left them in significant physical, financial, and emotional distress," said Coakley in a press release. "We are pleased that we were able to obtain a judgment that prohibits this former dentist from repeating his deceptive scheme in the commonwealth."

Massachusetts is in possession of more than 265 complaints from patients who suffered significant physical and financial harm as a result of the unfair and deceptive dental treatment and financing scheme, she noted.

According to the attorney general's lawsuit, filed in September 2008 in Suffolk Superior Court, Anusavice, in concert with 14 other defendants:

  • Lured patients to the practices with deceptive marketing.
  • Used unfair, coercive, and high-pressure sales tactics to induce patients to agree to costly dental treatment plans on the day of their first visits, and, in the majority of cases, to finance those treatment plans using third-party financing they arranged.
  • Billed the third-party financing companies for the entire treatment plan on the patients' first visit.
  • Commenced the treatment plan at the time of the first visit but then failed to complete the treatment plan at subsequent visits or provided shoddy treatment.

As patient complaints about the defendants' practices escalated to authorities, regulators, insurers, and financing companies, the commonwealth alleged the defendants abandoned the practices without notice to patients and without providing them the confidential medical records, prostheses, x-rays, and other materials that patients had paid for but had not received and which were needed to complete the patients' dental treatments.

The commonwealth expects claims against five remaining defendants to go to trial some time next year. This includes the alleged managers of the practices, Michael Rinaldi, Joseph Robbio, Vincent O'Neill, and Heather Pavao; and Merhad Haghkerdar, DDS, also known as Michael Kane.

Following discussions with the attorney general's office in 2009, several major banks that had provided financing to victims of the practices voluntarily agreed to refund disputed amounts paid by consumers and waive disputed account balances, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars of relief to consumers who had financed their dental work

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