Get the spit bowl ready. This story is bound to get you gnashing your chompers and leave a bad taste in your mouth.
A dentist in Wisconsin has been found guilty of deliberately breaking his patients’ teeth with a drill so he could collect millions of dollars to repair the damage with dental crowns.
The alleged scheme by licensed Grafton dentist Scott Charmoli, 61, appears to have begun in 2015, when the number of crowns he installed abruptly increased. In 2015, Charmoli installed 1,036 crowns, well over the 434 crowns he did in 2014. Amid the royal boom, his income increased by more than $1 million, going from $1.4 million in 2014 to $2.5 million in 2015, according to court documents.
From 2016 to 2019, Charmoli billed insurers and patients over $4.2 million for crown procedures, according to federal prosecutors. In each of those years, Charmoli ranked at or above the 95th percentile for the number of crowns installed by dentists in the state. An executive from a dental insurance company testified during Charmoli’s four-day trial that Wisconsin dentists installed, on average, fewer than six crowns per 100 patients in 2019. Yet court documents show that in 2019, Charmoli installed 881 crowns for his 1,131 patients—a rate of about 78 crowns per 100 patients.
According to a federal indictment, Charmoli’s scheme worked like this: He would take an X-ray or photograph of the patient’s pearly whites, point out a faint line or spot on a healthy tooth, and tell the patient the fleck indicated decay or a fracture that needed to be repaired with a crown—a dental cap that goes over a damaged tooth. Once the patient agreed to the procedure, Charmoli would go to work with his drill to actually damage the healthy tooth, sometimes breaking off a piece, often a cusp. Charmoli would then stop and take another X-ray or photograph of the damage, which he would submit for insurance coverage to justify the crown. Then, Charmoli would install the crown.
A former assistant of Charmoli’s, Baily Bayer, testified during the hearing that she thought it was strange that the dentist took X-rays after he started drilling, according to reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But Charmoli would justify the extra pictures by saying things like “insurance is going to want to see this,” Bayer testified.
Despite the suspicious behavior, no one drilled down on what was really going on—until after Charmoli had stopped seeing patients. In January 2019, Charmoli sold his practice, Jackson Family Dentistry, to fellow dentist Pako Major. In a blog post on the practice’s website, Major reports that Charmoli kept seeing his patients there until August 2019. But Major said he only cracked the case when he started reviewing files of Charmoli’s patients after his departure.
“As medical professionals, we take an oath to ‘do no harm’ to our patients, which is why I felt the ethical obligation to report activity that I believed to be suspicious,” Major wrote in the post. He also said he had “zero knowledge of or association with the alleged actions of Dr. Charmoli.”
Charmoli was indicted by a federal grand jury on December 15, 2020. By then, Charmoli’s personal assets were worth more than $6.8 million, and he owned vacation properties in Wisconsin and Arizona, according to reporting by The Washington Post.
Last week, the jury found Charmoli guilty of five counts of health care fraud and two counts of making false statements related to health care matters. Charmoli now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for each count of health care fraud and a maximum of five years for each false statement conviction. His sentencing is scheduled for June 17. Nearly 100 former patients are also suing him.