Conviction Delivered For Dentist Who Pulled Teeth On Hoverboard
The Alaska Department of Law has issued a press release announcing the conviction of an Alaska dentist who recently appeared on video, performing a tooth extraction on a sedated patient while riding a hoverboard. The dentist was convicted of Medicaid fraud as well as reckless endangerment.
Seth Lookhart, DMD, was found guilty on January 17 in the Superior Court of Judge Michael Wolverton. The dentist was convicted on 46 counts, with the charges including medical assistance fraud, scheme to defraud, reckless endangerment, and illegal practice of dentistry. The bench trial lasted five weeks; Dr. Lookhart’s sentencing will occur on April 30.
Dr. Lookhart conspired with Shauna Cranford, his office manager, to push patients into the most costly form of sedation dentistry (IV sedation) in order to maximize the reimbursements they received from Alaska Medicaid. Charging documents also indicated that the pair kept the scheme secret from Dr. Lookhart’s former partners by having reimbursements sent directly to his home.
Maximum charges for Dr. Lookhart could include 11 years in prison
Up to $127,000 in fines for Dr. Lookhart, maximum charges could include 11 years in prison, and an obligation to repay his former partners and Alaska Medicaid. Dr. Lookhart’s sentence will be influenced by factors revealed in the trial, including allegations that he preyed on vulnerable patients.
Judge Wolverton issued a written order along with the verdict, noting that Lookhart had supreme confidence in his scheme’s security, fully intending to carry it out indefinitely.
The judge called the state’s evidence “simply overwhelming.” The dentist’s practice, Lookhart Dental (d.b.a. Clear Creek Dental) was also found guilty of 40 counts brought against it. Fines to the practice may total $3 million or more.
Wolverton described how the allegations against Lookhart were supported in “often excruciating detail” by texts, photos, and videos produced by the dentist himself. Dr. Lookhart’s conviction also rested, prosecutors believe, in patient testimony, particularly from Veronica Wilhelm.
Lookhart filmed himself extracting teeth from Wilhelm while she was sedated in July 2016. The dentist was riding a hoverboard at the time, joking that this was his “new standard of care,” and shared the video with several friends. Wilhelm herself only learned of the video’s existence (see here) when authorities contacted her.
At the trial, Wilhelm testified that she had not consented to being filmed or to allowing Dr. Lookhart to ride a hoverboard. Wilhelm stated that she would not have consented had she been asked.
Lookhart graduated from dental school in 2014. His first work in the industry came as an independent contractor at Anchorage’s Alaska Dental Arts, a practice owned by Broc Brimhall, DMD, and Shane Rhoton, DDS.
Dr. Lookhart obtained a business license shortly after arriving in Anchorage. After less than a year at Alaska Dental Arts, Lookhart became the practice’s solo dentist and given a free hand to build up the practice. Records of the Alaska Department of Law show that Lookhart’s compensation for this work was to be either $240,000 or 30 percent of the practice’s profits, whichever was greater.
Lookhart struggled to achieve the goals set by the practice’s owners by himself. In March 2015, he hired Cranford as his office manager. Most of the practice’s patients at this point were already covered by Medicaid.
Cranford was the one who introduced the idea of offering IV sedation instead of more common, affordable methods of anesthetization. IV sedation costs are not usually included in the $1,150 limit imposed on non-emergency dentistry for Medicaid patients. Pushing IV sedation on the practice’s patients became a profitable, but illegal, way to increase the business’s revenue.
Lookhart used a different provider ID to bill Medicaid for the sedation procedures. Reimbursements were sent to his home, allowing him to conceal up to $350,000 from his partners.
Dr. Lookhart offered IV sedation to private-pay clients for a flat $450 fee. For Medicaid patients, though, he billed up to $2,049 for the same service. A prohibition on billing Medicaid more than the general public is a foundational part of Medicaid regulations.
The owners of the practice threatened to terminate Dr. Lookhart in 2016 unless he was willing to purchase the practice. He paid 2 million dollars for it and changed its operating name to Clear Creek Dental.
Lookhart continued to push IV sedation on his patients. The Department of Law press release reports that in 2016, a full 31 percent of payments made for IV sedation by Alaska Medicaid went to Lookhart’s practice.
Lookhart was first licensed for IV sedation in 2015. Since that time, he has received approximately $1.9 million for that service from Medicaid. His submitted bills for IV sedation are even higher, totaling approximately $2.5 million.
Judge Wolverton stressed that Lookhart’s intention from the outset was to steal from Alaska Medicaid and that he practiced dentistry illegally to do so. The judge noted that in many cases, Lookhart subjected patients to serious risk of injury while carrying out his scheme.
For her role in the scheme, Cranford arranged a plea agreement with prosecutors. According to the Department of Law press release, she will be sentenced on February 3.
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