2007-12-07 / Front Page

Fighting Tooth And Nail For His Money

By Nicholas Briano

Robert Johnson knew that he needed extensive dental work, so when the Rockaway man saw the flashy advertisement for "Select Dental," a new modern, state-of-the-art dental facility on television, he figured that he had found a dentist where nothing could possibly go wrong.

Robert Johnson tells his sad story of fraud and manipulation to The Wave this week, hoping that he will not be responsible for a $17,000 loan owed to a defunct dental group that never completed the work. Robert Johnson tells his sad story of fraud and manipulation to The Wave this week, hoping that he will not be responsible for a $17,000 loan owed to a defunct dental group that never completed the work. Everything did go wrong, however.

Johnson, who had hopes of repairing his teeth and gums, instead dented both his wallet and his credit when the Howard Beach facility closed its gates forever, took his money and ran.

Johnson is far from the only person with the problem. According to Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, the chair for the Assembly's Consumer Affairs Committee, Select Dental, formerly located at 159-21 Cross Bay Boulevard, is under investigation by various state agencies for closing their doors and allegedly ripping off countless numbers of patients.

"I saw the ad on [television] and it looked real nice," Johnson said. "They said I could pay [the $17,000 fee] in monthly installments."

Johnson claims to have gone in for three appointments, during which he was approved for a loan through Care Credit for a total of $17,000. Johnson became slightly suspicious at the facility's persistence in obtaining the loan through the office's lender, even though he had a sufficient amount of credit on his personal cards to fund the treatments. Despite those suspicions, Johnson says that he still decided to go for it and put his trust in what he thought was a reputable practice.

"They just told me I was approved," Johnson said. "I didn't authorize them to and just prior to his fourth visit that Johnson pulled up to a parking spot on Cross Bay Boulevard, parked the car, walked to the office and immediately began to panic.

"I had no idea what to do," Johnson said desperately. "There was no one there, they had closed down."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Rockaway's consumer affairs watchdog, has announced that her committee has launched an investigation into Select Dental and its consumer credit practices, with special emphasis on the patients who are currently paying for dental work that was never finished.

Pheffer says she has been in contact with the New York State Department of Education Office of Professional Discipline, a subdivision of NYSDOE, who provided Select Dental with their operating license. And according to Pheffer, a full-scale investigation has been launched into the fraud apparently perpetrated by the dental office.

The claims against Select Dental have also prompted District Attorney Richard Brown to begin his own investigation into what occurred.

However, much to the dismay of local patients who were ripped off, Select Dental is already the subject of a Federal investigation because it appears that they have been taking their show on the road for quite some time and operating in the same way in other states. As a result, DA Brown plans on coordinating his efforts with Federal authorities, who already know about Select Dental's tendencies to take money and disappear.

Pheffer says that she is trying to take care of Select Dental's victims on a local level by coordinating her efforts between the DA and the property's landlord, so the medical records left behind are released to the appropriate patients.

"I am working diligently with all those involved in this matter to assure that this case is resolved properly and that any harm done to patients of Select Dental, medically and financially, is addressed," Pheffer said in a press release this week.

Pheffer also says that she has been assured by Care Credit, Select Dental's lender, that all bills and accounts are currently being reviewed and that anyone who has been victimized can contact Care Credit directly at 866-893-7864.

The actions generated by his local elected officials has left Johnson with a confident feeling that justice will be served.

"I feel more confident than I did before," Johnson said. "I had no idea what to do. I needed someone to reach out to."

Johnson also feels he can't possibly be the only one in Rockaway who has been affected, and hopes that others will come forward to aid the investigation and bring Select Dental to justice.

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