Dentists' fraud hearing set

The case of a Ceres dentist who is suspected of drilling healthy teeth to make money - allegedly defrauding the Medi-Cal system of $4.5 million in the process - has turned into an exercise in scheduling.

With the three-year anniversary of charges against dentist Kyon Maung Teo and 18 others fast approaching, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Steffen on Friday said a preliminary hearing that began more than a year ago and has been on a hiatus since February will resume next spring.

The hearing is needed so the judge can determine whether Teo, his wife and office manager, Kin Thor Pang, and nine dentists who worked for them should be held for trial on a host of fraud and conspiracy charges.

The judge said a dozen lawyers involved in the case might face sanctions if they are not ready to go May 19.

"All counsel are ordered to clear their calendars and be here," Steffen said.

The hearing already has spread across 21 days in August 2006, September 2006 and February. And it is expected to take another six weeks.

A 44-count complaint filed Sept. 22, 2004, by the attorney general's office outlines 104 acts that prosecutors say were part of a conspiracy among the employees of Hatch Dental offices in Ceres, Modesto and Stockton.

The dentists are accused of performing unnecessary procedures on healthy teeth and submitting fraudulent claims for procedures that were not completed between November 1999 and December 2003.

The original case was against 21 defendants, but nine dentists accepted deals in which they pleaded guilty or no contest to reduced charges, such as battery or conspiracy to submit fraudulent claims. Prosecutors dismissed a 10th defendant from the case.

Complicating matters, prosecutors recently filed three new felony charges against Pang, alleging that she continued to file false medical claims after the initial charges came to light.

Her attorney wants to consolidate those charges with the lead case, but prosecutors want to keep the cases separate, saying consolidation would require them to coordinate the smaller case with a dozen attorneys representing dentists in the lead case.

The judge said he will consider arguments on the matter Jan. 11.

In the meantime, Teo, 45, and Pang, 36, both of Modesto, continue to practice from an office on Hatch Road in Ceres, though the other two offices have closed. They said they are wrongly accused.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.