As the Jindal administration strives with carefully orchestrated fanfare to assist corporate entities with generous tax incentives and state contracts, LouisianaVoice has taken a look at the administration’s ugly underbelly and learned of an ongoing pattern by at least one state board to impose stiff penalties and fines of tens of thousands of dollars against professionals for perceived violations of a dizzying array of confusing and obscure regulations that seem to pop up with no prior warning, no explanation and with little or no due process.
The Louisiana State Board of Dentistry (LSBD) operates with complete autonomy as it serves as prosecutor, judge and jury in bringing charges and then conducts its own hearings and then rules on those charges, often hitting dentists, dental assistants and dental hygienists with five-figure fines.
Many of these charges are the result of apparent entrapment on the part of the LSBD and an investigator under contract to the board, according to its victims.
Moreover, the LSBD, which receives no state funding for its operations, still manages to award lucrative contracts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to attorneys and private investigators, according to state records obtained by LouisianaVoice.
LSBD’s funding comes exclusively from fines levied against dental professionals, giving the board strong incentive to conjure up charges and hand down stiff fines in order to pay for those contracts.
Taking the contract of board of attorney Brian Begue, records show he was awarded a one-year contract of $175,000 in June of 1995. That contract was renewed for the same amount in June of 1996.
In June of 1997, a new three-year, $225,000 contract was given Begue. He again was given three-year contracts in 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012, but the contract amounts for each of the last five contracts was doubled to $450,000.
One source said Begue did not routinely submit time sheets indicating how much time was spent doing legal work for the board. Instead, he would simply give the board a piece of paper with an amount to be paid for his services.
Even as it was bestowing those contracts on Begue, the board was also awarding lucrative contracts on New Orleans private investigator Camp Morrison. Beginning in March of 1997, he received a three-year, $45,000 contract to investigate dentists who might be in violation of some rule or regulation.
In 2000, Morrison’s new contract was for only two years but the contract amount jumped to $150,000, then to $200,000 in 2002, to $240,000 in 2004 where it remained for each two-year term until last year when his contract was renewed for three years—and increased to $340,000.
Even more curious was the disparity between contract begin dates and approval dates. For example, Morrison’s 2002 contract began on Sept. 1 but was not approved until May 19, 2003. His 2008 contract for $240,000 started on Sept. 1 but was not approved until Dec. 28, 2009—almost 15 months after the begin date.
A familiar name surfaced on April 13, 2000, when a two-year, $100,000 contract backdated to Mar. 1 was awarded to Jimmy Faircloth, who would later reveal in open court the board’s ulterior motive in pursuing charges against one dentist.
In that case that progressed to a federal courtroom trial the presiding judge was questioning why Faircloth was so determined to prosecute Dr. Randall Schaefer who had revealed design flaws in a TMJ implant developed by the LSU School Dentistry, Faircloth pointed to then-LSBD executive director Barry Ogden, telling the judge, Ogden had instructed him to get Schaefer “no matter what it cost.”
Faircloth subsequently received a second two-year contract for $50,000, effective Nov. 1, 2010, but not approved until April 19, 2011. That contract was renewed for 20 months and $50,000 in 2012
The board even went so far as to have legislation passed whereby it provides liability insurance for Morrison, its contracted investigator, a practice unprecedented in any other state agency. Contracts issued by every other agency contain provisions that the contractor must provide and pay for his own liability coverage and state contracts further stipulate that contractors shall hold the state harmless.
That could be because of Morrison’s practice of hiring unlicensed personnel to conduct investigations and of actions that some say borders on entrapment.
The manner in which the board serves as accuser, judge and jury, Begue’s dual function as both the board’s general counsel and as prosecutor may have prompted former State Sen. Max Malone (R-Shreveport) to react to allegations of harassment and extortion by the board by rising on the Senate floor to brand the board and its members as “corrupt.”
The enforcement muscle flexed by the board usually intimidates those accused of wrongdoing to pay fines without resistance because of the costs involved and because they know they will be going up against a stacked deck.
An example of the abuse inflicted by the board is the case of two Shreveport dental hygienists who were accused of fraud by the board and who were presented a consent decree to sign which contained substantial penalties, including 90-day suspensions, fines and legal costs.
The hygienists refused to sign the initial consent decree even in the face of the steep odds that they faced.
The board, however, because of its own vulnerable position, came back with a second consent decree that removed the fraud term, replacing it with failure to provide the acceptable standard of care, fines of $500 each and legal costs of $15,000, and remedial training with no suspensions.
So, why did the board come back with a reduced penalty and why did the two accused sign? First, the hygienists were fully aware of the power of the board to take away their livelihoods by revoking their license.
But the board’s investigator, Morrison, had made the mistake of sending in unlicensed investigators posing as patients seen by the hygienists. Additionally, the board allegedly offered one hygienist immunity if she would say that her boss, a Shreveport dentist, ordered her to falsify information obtained by the hygienist in her examination.
In exchange, the hygienists were required to waive any challenge the complaint against them.
More revealing, however, was the requirement that the hygienists “hereby release and forever discharge the board, its executive director, its investigator and any of the agents, employees, representatives, officers, members, attorneys and investigators of the board, including but not limited to Camp Morrison, Dana Glorioso and Karen Moorhead, from any and all claims, damages, causes of action, or other claims of any nature whatsoever, known or unknown, asserted or unasserted, arising from any set of facts of circumstances existing as of the date of this agreement, including, but not limited to any claims of improper investigation, prosecutorial misconduct, defamation, or invasion of privacy.” (Emphasis added.)
LSBD spokespersons might claim this is standard verbiage but it is nevertheless significant to note that Glorioso and Moorhead were the unlicensed investigators sent into the dentist’s office under the pretense of treatment for dental problems—a practice that appears questionable at best and illegal at worst.
LouisianaVoice will be posting additional stories about the LSBD in the coming days and weeks, including the identities of the LSBD members and political contributions of dental political action committees. We also will be examining various legal cases, some of which are concluded and others that are making their way through the courts, and interviewing dental professionals who have encountered similar difficulties with the LSBD.