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The Bottom Line
August 11, 2012
Josias Ortiz-Nelson didn't think it was unusual when he was told by telephone in April that his dentist's office was moving from Hartford to Cromwell and a shuttle service would pick him up for an upcoming appointment.
But when the shuttle service drove by the Franklin Avenue office of his dentist, Savvas Mintatos, Ortiz-Nelson noticed something odd: Mintatos' car parked in the office lot.
"I'm, like, 'Wow'," says Ortiz-Nelson, a Hartford resident, "but I didn't bother to question it because I figured he was moving stuff from his office."
Yet when Ortiz-Nelson arrived at the "new" office, he didn't recognize the secretary and, after filling out a patient-information form, he didn't recognize the name of the practice listed at the top, either.
So he asked if, in fact, he was in the office of Dr. Savvas Mintatos.
The answer, perhaps already apparent, was no. Ortiz-Nelson was in Alpha Dental Care, a practice federal authorities say is associated with an unlicensed dentist who a little more than month later was accused, with a second dentist, of stealing $20 million in government dental benefits for low-income patients.
"They have a script that they use that sounds like my office may be making the calls," although it was not, says Mintatos.
The state attorney general's office says it's aware of such tactics and is investigating.
When he was charged by federal authorities in late May with defrauding Medicaid in Connecticut, Gary Anusavice of North Kingstown, R.I., already had been convicted in 1997 of filing false health-care claims, imprisoned on tax charges, banned from participating in the Medicaid program and had relinquished his dentistry license in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Mehran Zamani, a Pound Ridge, N.Y., dentist, also faces charges in the scam.
The Connecticut attorney general's office quickly sued Anusavice and Zamani, along with two other dentists — David Wu of Cheshire and Alphonso Mack of Bloomfield — it says hid Anusavice's involvement in their practices.
Seven of the 12 dental practices in the fraud investigation closed after being banned from the Medicaid program. Alpha Dental in Cromwell, where Wu practices, is among the remaining clinics still open. The state attorney general's office says Wu and Anusavice operated the Cromwell dental practice and two others — Dental Group of New Britain and Hartford Dental Group — that allegedly generated additional millions in Medicaid payments. (A person who answered the phone at Alpha Dental said Wu, also the principle owner of Alpha Dental in Wallingford, would be unavailable for two weeks.)
The state Department of Social Services uncovered the alleged fraud, then worked with the attorney general's office and federal authorities to assemble evidence. After a grand jury returned a nine-count indictment on June 7, the federal government is now seeking an extended jail term for Anusavice and the forfeiture of his home, $92,000 seized when he was arrested and a Mercedes.
The federal indictment charges that Anusavice owned and operated three clinics from 2009 to April 2011 licensed to other dentists: Landmark Dental in West Haven, Dental Group of Connecticut in Trumble and Dental Group of Stamford. The clinics allegedly received more than $20 million from the Connecticut Medicaid program, with Anusavice getting $3 million.
Jeffrey Sanchez, like Ortiz-Nelson, is a Medicaid patient at Mintatos' Hartford practice who was contacted about an appointment at the "new" Cromwell office. Sanchez declined the offer of the free ride, but arrived ready to have his teeth cleaned.
"When I got there, I was looking for Mintatos' name," he says. "I felt weird. What's going on? I saw the dental office [sign] and said, 'Maybe it has a different name.' So I go inside the office, give my information and my insurance. They wanted to see me that day."
Sanchez, suspicious, wasn't so sure.
"I said, 'You know what,'" says Sanchez, "I don't want to be seen today. Do you have an appointment for next week?' So they said, 'Sure, how about Saturday? I said, 'Let me find out.'"
Sanchez left, then called Mintatos' actual office on Franklin Avenue. No, Sanchez was told, the practice wasn't moving to Cromwell.
The state attorney general's office says it's aware of tactics like this and urges people who believe they have been harmed or have information that would help the investigation to call or file a complaint with the Health Care Fraud unit at 860-808-5355. (A complaint form is also available at 1.usa.gov/NhFpjK.)
"The Alpha Dental Group is among the individuals and dental practices named in a lawsuit filed by the Office of the Attorney General alleging an illegal Medicaid billing scheme," says Susan Kinsman, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. "The investigation of this matter continues."
Ortiz-Nelson, meanwhile, was stuck in the Alpha Dental office in Cromwell. But not for long.
"I had somebody pick me up," he says. "I didn't want to wait for them to find me transportation. I told them not to work on my teeth, I was fine. I pretty much took off."
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