She never attended dental school nor had the proper license, but Cherie R. Dillon carried out the work of a dentist — something she’s now acknowledged in court.
After four days on trial in U.S. District Court in Boise, Dillon suddenly pleaded guilty Friday to two dozen counts of health care fraud and an equal number of counts of aggravated identity theft — all of the counts charged.
Dillon is scheduled for sentencing on May 9 before Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. She faces a mandatory two-year sentence for identity theft and up to 10 years in prison for health care fraud.
The government is also seeking forfeiture of $143,000.
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“Our federal and state health benefits programs rely on providers to be honest about the services they provide, and to only bill for covered services,” U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said in a statement. “Those who seek to deceive not only about the services provided but also about who provided them undermine that system and undermine public faith in federal programs.”
Dillon, 61, from Fruitland, drilled and pulled teeth, provided patients with filling and dentures and completed other procedures that could only be performed by a licensed dentist. Dillon had not attended dental school and did not have a license beyond a hygeniest’s.
Dillon founded her Payette practice, Dental Healthcare With Heart, in August 2005. She hired dentists to work for her on a part-time basis in exchange for sharing one-quarter to one-third of the money she took in from health care benefit providers for services provided by the dentists.
Dillon took advantage of the condition of one of her contract dentists, Dr. Theodore Fricke, who was suffering from severe health problems that required in-home health care. In late 2010, Fricke’s physician certified he was fully disabled for the purpose of disability insurance.
Dillon fraudulently billed Medicaid and insurance companies for services she said were performed by Fricke between 2010 and 2013, authorities said.
Prosecutors introduced evidence that Dillon renewed Fricke’s dental license and a license for prescribing controlled substances. She even completed online continuing education requirements for Fricke.
Dillon carried on a ruse that Fricke continued to practice at Dental Healthcare With Heart, telling other contract dentists that Fricke worked on a day they weren’t in the office.
Prosecutors said Dillon stamped medical records, letters and billing documents with Fricke’s signature stamp.
Dillon deposited “substantial” amounts of cash into retirement accounts for her and her husband. The amounts, prosecutors said, “exceeded the amount paid to any contract dentist” performing actual dental procedures at the practice.
If insurance companies had known treatments were billed by a dental hygienist working outside the scope of her license, they would not have paid for the treatments.
The Idaho State Board of Dentistry pressured Dillon into surrendering her dental hygienist license in June 2016, after the allegations surfaced.
The case was investigated by the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Idaho Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.