ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - An Anchorage dentist has been charged with fraudulently billing Medicaid for unnecessary procedures, as well as what prosecutors call “unlawful dental acts,” which include performing a surgical procedure while on a hover board and recording it, all without the patient’s knowledge.
The Alaska State Department of Law, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit released a statement Thursday saying that Seth Lookhart, 31, was charged Monday with 10 felony offenses including medical assistance fraud, theft, scheme to defraud, unlawful dental acts, and practicing dentistry without a license.
These charges primarily stem from Lookhart’s work for Alaska Dental Arts. While there, charging documents allege, Lookhart began introducing IV sedation to clients for more operations than would otherwise be necessary, something specifically prohibited by Alaska law. Once he had more patients taking the costlier and illegal IV procedure instead of local anesthesia, prosecutors say Lookhart “devised a scheme to cut out his partners by billing Medicaid under a different provider ID and sending the money directly to his home.”
Lookhart’s office manager was also implicated as an accomplice in his crimes, sharing almost all of the felony charges made against him. The charging documents implicate Shauna Cranford, 32, as playing a role in convincing Lookhart to introduce IV sedation.
“Employees indicated that Lookhart was initially resistant to adding this service to his practice, but Cranford ultimately convinced him it was a good idea. When interviewed, Cranford confirmed that she introduced the idea of including IV sedation as a service at the clinic,” the charging document said.
In addition to the fraud claims, Lookhart stands charged with several unprofessional misdemeanor offenses, including performing a dental extraction on a sedated patient while riding a hover board. The court documents presented also allege that he filmed these procedures and subsequently distributed the video to people outside the dental practice.
Investigators say that they found the video in question while searching both Cranford’s and Lookhart’s phones. They say Lookhart sent the video to several people and joked about the procedure in text messages as being a “new standard of care.” The female patient in the video was identified and later confirmed that she had no knowledge of the hover board operation or its filming.
One of the misdemeanor offenses that Cranford was charged with include “engaging in the practice of dentistry without a license.” In this charge, the documents allege that Lookhart aided Cranford, his office manager and not a licensed medical practitioner, in performing a dental extraction herself while the patient was sedated. A text message conversation on Cranford’s phone was used to support this charge, where she told her mother that she “pulled out two teeth on a guy yesterday” and that “He was asleep. He didn’t know I did it.”
The court documents state that the investigation into Lookhart initially came when a former employee testified to attorneys that Lookhart was padding his profits. This was achieved by over-prescribing the IV procedure to Medicaid patients, which according to the documents, were a bulk of the patients seen at the Muldoon-area practice.
This practice violates 7 AAC 110.155 and 7 AAC 110.145, which state that IV sedation is only authorized in emergencies, stating its use is only allowed in “the immediate relief of pain or acute infection […] necessary for emergency dental care,” and “if the dental services provider justifies, in writing, that the service is required for a patient who is uncontrollable under local anesthesia alone.”
During the early phases of the investigation into Lookhart, former employees who were interviewed stated Cranford and Lookhart pushed IV sedation even for routine procedures like deep cleanings. The charging documents claim that he would exhaust patient’s $1,150 deductible, and then bill the state for IV sedation that ran over that limit, netting thousands of dollars in excess procedure hours.
All told, the medical assistance fraud charges, the theft in the second degree charges, and the scheme to defraud charges being made against Lookhart, Cranford, and Lookhart Dental, LLC., carry possible sentences of up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and restitution for the defendants who were defrauded, which could cost the company up to $2,500,000.
Assistant Attorney General Paul Miovas said that, since Lookhart obtained his IV sedation license in 2015, he “has been paid by Medicaid approximately $1.9 million for IV sedation services; he has billed Medicaid approximately $2.5 million.”
Prosecutors also took the time to identify Lookhart as being a significant flight risk during his bail hearing on Wednesday and requested that he be arrested with a significant cash bail and that he should surrender his passport.
This was due to multiple factors, the charging documents said, including holding “significant financial resources” and “significant family ties out of state.” They also said that he has “a passport and contacts in Brazil and has traveled to Brazil in the previous two years, is believed to speak Portuguese, [and] has business contacts in Dublin, Ireland.”