Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cheated patient blows whistle on dental clinic

An ad promising a free exam and X-rays lured Evelyn Goff to Oceanside Dental in Tampa, accompanied by her daughter.

Instead of a free exam, they say, they got a three-hour wait followed by a six-hour “high-pressure sales pitch.”

Brenda Goff-Bryan says the clinic staff charged $8,500 to her credit card for her mother’s new dentures, even though they canceled the order the next morning. She is suing the clinic in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The mother-daughter team may have uncovered something even worse than they thought. It turns out that the clinic’s manager, Joseph Robbio, is one of five people currently facing criminal charges in Massachusetts stemming from fraudulent dental practice and financing schemes.

Hundreds of patients there were enticed to clinics with offers of “free services” and then pressured into long-term financial obligations, the Massachusetts attorney general alleges. A sixth defendant has already been ordered to pay nearly a quarter-million dollars in damages and penalties in that case.

The clinics in the Massachusetts case have several names, but they are all connected to a Rhode Island company called JX Marketing. In the Tampa case, Oceanside is listed as “JX Marketing d/b/a/ Oceanside Dental.”

When she learned of the allegations in the Tampa case, Amie Breton, deputy press secretary for the Massachusetts attorney general, said, ”That sounds exactly like the situation we had here.”

Calls to Oceanside clinic and Robbio seeking comment were not returned, and in the past two days, calls have gone straight to voice mail. On Wednesday morning, the doors were locked during advertised office hours.

Robbio was also peripherally involved in a weird case last year, in which a man who had treated patients at Oceanside and two other clinics turned out to be a phony who had no dental license and was using an assumed name.

In an account in the St. Petersburg Times, Robbio said that he had no idea the man wasn’t a dentist. But Robbio posted bail for the imposter, who never showed up for his court date.

In 1999, Robbio, who at the time lived in Cranston, RI, was convicted on seven federal charges, including conspiracy to transport counterfeit securities, possession of implements for making counterfeit securities and production and possession of false identification documents. A jury found that Robbio had created counterfeited checks on nonexistent bank accounts, and created fake driver licenses so he could use those checks.

Robbio appealed the conviction on the grounds of improper instructions to the jury. The result of the appeal could not immediately be determined.

In 2008, the New York Daily News reported that Robbio and two of his associates – men also named in the Massachusetts suit – were being investigated by the Secret Service for practices at dental clinics in New York. According to the Daily News, the clinics allegedly would charge clients large amounts – up to $25,000 upfront -- then provide poor or incomplete services and quickly close down.

The dispute in the current Tampa case dates back to 2008. Goff-Bryan was shopping around for a dentist who could tend to multiple problems that her mother, who had a partial denture, was having with her teeth.

“She had rotting teeth,” said Jennifer Meksraitis, the Tampa lawyer who is representing Goff-Bryan. “She was looking for someone who could take care of her teeth, tell her what she needed, a full denture or whatever, and she was trying to find the best price.”

Goff-Bryan lives with and cares for her mother, who was in her late 70s at the time, Meksraitis said.

Goff-Bryan saw Oceanside’s yellow pages ad offering free exams and X-rays for new clients – an offer that still appears on the clinic’s website -- and made an appointment for 10 a.m. on a morning soon after.

They arrived at the clinic, at 2510 W. Virginia Ave. in Tampa, on time. But they say in court documents that they waited three hours before they were brought into an examination room, where they stayed for six more hours. Oceanside personnel told Goff-Bryan that her mother needed full dentures. According to the suit, they told her that without even examining her.

“The whole time, they were subjected to a high-pressure sales pitch,” Meksraitis said. “It was ‘You have to pay today to lock in the price. The price is going to go up.’ ”

The price was supposed to cover just materials that the clinic would have to order, Meksraitis said. Goff did not receive any services, the suit alleges.

“They didn’t take an impression or anything,” Meksraitis said.

Goff-Bryan agreed, and offered her credit card. She thought the charge would be about $4,000. The next morning, she called and canceled.

The person she spoke to at Oceanside told her it would be no problem, according to the lawsuit. Just to be safe, Goff-Bryan also called her credit card company, which agreed to reverse the charge, according to Meksraitis.

A few months later, Goff-Bryan’s credit card statement included an $8,500 charge to Oceanside. She called the clinic, spoke to Robbio personally, but he hung up on her, Meksraitis.said.

Besides imposing the allegedly improper fee, Meksraitis said, Oceanside personnel removed Goff’s partial denture and replaced it improperly, causing her “a great deal of pain.” Goff has since had a full denture made by another dentist.

The third defendant in the suit, besides Oceanside and Robbio, is Mamatha Veeramachaneni D.D.S. , the dentist who examined Goff. She has a clear license in Florida.