EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include several statements by Dr. James C. LaJevic who vehemently denies all allegations against him.
ENCINITAS — After a string of criminal and professional violations spanning four decades and three states, a Rancho Santa Fe dentist faces new allegations of fraud by a former patient of Correct Choice Dental Group in Encinitas.
Gerry Simoni, 62, of Escondido, filed a civil complaint on April 24 in San Diego Superior Court’s small-claims division against James Charles LaJevic, accusing the dentist of fraudulently billing $2,750 for dental services that were never performed.
Simoni further alleges that LaJevic, 71, charged him for procedures not included in his original treatment plan.
LaJevic responded to Simoni’s allegations in an email to The Coast News.
“We sent to the patient that itemization of the procedures we completed in his mouth,” the statement reads. “We have completed more than the agreed amount of work in the treatment notes are accurate and not in anyway fraudulent. These were computer notes that were completed at the time of the treatment.”
The complaint is the third claim filed in Superior Court against the embattled practitioner by a patient or professional associate in the past six months.
“I did what I could to come to a mutual agreement, but he has ignored all my requests,” Simoni said. “It’s clear to me that he has no concern for his patients, especially those who he has damaged.”
According to Simoni, LaJevic offered him a “great price for procedures” if he paid him $4,500 upfront for four crowns, Invisalign treatment and scaling and root planning on all four quadrants.
When Simoni received an itemized bill after months of treatment, he said LaJevic had charged him for services that never occurred, including scaling and root planning (SRP) on all four quadrants.
According to Simoni, LaJevic called him on April 2 to inform him that he would not provide any more treatment and to “never step foot inside of his office again.”
“I was in shock to say the least and felt sick to my stomach because I knew he had just stolen a good part of my money,” Simoni said.
Simoni said several more attempts to contact LaJevic were ignored.
But LaJevic said that from the beginning, Simoni had it out for him and told him that, ‘All dentists are liars, thieves and overcharge their patients.’
“That was a red flag from the beginning,” LaJevic said. “Recently, (Simoni) wrote me a letter and called me a liar and a fraud. This hurts my feelings. I have done everything I can do professionally to help him.”
LaJevic added that he later dismissed Simoni as his patient.
“This patient constantly complains, yells out loud, uses profanity and said, ‘I f*****d up his teeth,'” LaJevic said in a statement. “I referred the patient to two specialists — that he didn’t have to pay for — and they all said my work is very good dentistry.”
Ongoing legal woes
The legal action comes just four months after Simoni’s daughter, Christiana, filed a Jan. 22 lawsuit against LaJevic alleging professional negligence after a wisdom tooth extraction resulted in paresthesia.
After filing suit, Christiana said she advised her father to see a different dentist but learned that Simoni had already paid LaJevic upfront for treatment.
“I feel like he got off lucky considering what happened to me,” Christiana said. “My dad got scammed but the quality of my life got taken away.”
In November 2018, Dr. Gary Braunstein, of Encinitas Dental Care, filed a complaint in small claims court after LaJevic refused to reimburse him $4,750 for a patient’s treatment.
The patient, Christine Praefice, had received a refund from Care Credit, a health care financing company, based on her claim of assault and malpractice by LaJevic, according to court documents.
“(LaJevic) just abuses people,” Braunstein told The Coast News in January. “He is not honest with people, billing fraudulently and his dentistry is questionable.”
These incidents are the latest in LaJevic’s tumultuous dental career that includes a series of well-documented professional and personal misconduct ranging from gross negligence and fraud to felony-tax evasion.
A history of violations
As previously reported by The Coast News, in 1994, the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry found “sufficient evidence” to sustain 12 of 47 allegations levied against LaJevic, including gross negligence, practicing dentistry with an expired license, taking office drugs for personal use and abandoning a patient mid-treatment.
At the time, the board noted that “Dr. LaJevic’s continued practice of dentistry in the Commonwealth was an immediate and clear danger to the public health or safety,” according to court documents.
Pennsylvania law enforcement agents also learned that the dentist was filling prescriptions for Valium and a narcotic cough syrup for “office use” with an expired Drug Enforcement Agency Certificate of Registration.
Following the state’s investigation, the Pennsylvania Dental Board suspended LaJevic’s dental license indefinitely in 2001 after discovering that he had falsified renewal applications for his expired DEA certificate.
The Pennsylvania Dental Board later granted a full reinstatement of LaJevic’s dental license after he completed a clinical re-examination and passed a specified ethics exam.
LaJevic left his Pennsylvania practice in good standing and moved with his wife and office assistant Lori Werder to Nevada.
According to a verified complaint filed in District Court by the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners, LaJevic and Werder were practicing dentistry without a state-issued license.
The longtime couple reached a stipulation agreement with the court, admitting no wrongdoing and paying a $7,000 fine.
LaJevic and Werder then moved to California where LaJevic was granted a probationary license on Oct. 16, 2015.
Wheels of justice?
In granting LaJevic’s license, the California Dental Board acknowledged LaJevic’s past violations but approved his license anyway.
Carlos Alvarez, enforcement chief with the California State Dental Board, said that dental licenses in the state can’t be denied solely on past convictions or violations.
“We have to look at (the applicants’) entire history,” Alvarez said. “Do they have any proof of certificate or rehabilitation from other states? Did they meet the conditions of any other administrative actions? Everything is taken into consideration before we issue a license.”
Alvarez said that every complaint submitted to the board is reviewed by dental consultants to see if the dentist fell below the “standard of care” which is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The most egregious cases are sent to the attorney general’s office for further investigation and prosecution.
But other than filing complaints, only criminal allegations, such as fraudulent billing and sexual misconduct, offer the possibility for repeat offenders to have their license permanently removed.
“This dentist needs to be investigated immediately,” Simoni said. “There is no doubt in my mind that he should have his license revoked in California so he cannot do any more damage to other people.”
LaJevic could not be reached for comment.