Florida's Medical, Dental Boards Unaware of Crimes

By: Carol Gentry, Health News Florida
By: Carol Gentry, Health News Florida

Tallahassee, Florida - April 22, 2011 -

After three years in a federal penitentiary, dentist David Goldston is back in practice in Polk City.

He’ll have to fix a lot of teeth to pay off $2 million in tax-fraud penalties, but he doesn’t have to worry about losing his state dental license. He didn’t get even a slap on the wrist from the Department of Health or Board of Dentistry.

In fact, there is no indication that they are even aware of Goldston’s federal conviction.

That’s not uncommon, a Health News Florida investigation found. Criminal convictions of health professionals often fly under the state’s radar.

Dennis Brager, a California tax attorney who recently studied and wrote about the Goldston case, was surprised to hear that the dentist is back in active practice.

“I know in California if you’re convicted, they lift your license,” Brager said.

But this is Florida. The rules are different here.

The Department of Health and the boards that it supports are supposed to protect the public from dishonest and incompetent practitioners. It has a website where consumers can look up licensees and check their backgrounds.

But that website doesn't mention arrests, except in rare cases when an emergency suspension order is issued. As a result, the arrest can go unlisted for years, if a case drags on that long.

Even after a case ends with a conviction, DOH doesn't always find out. Licenses can be listed as “clear/active” even as their owners serve prison time or felony probation.

DOH says it is not at fault, that it is carrying out the law as the Legislature wrote it. In the late 1990s, lawmakers authorized the agency to do criminal background checks on several types of health professionals, but not most.

Long-time legislators and their staffs -- even some who retired -- said they couldn't recall passage of the law and why it was done that way.

Even when a crime and court case makes headlines, DOH sometimes doesn’t include that information. The Goldston case, for example, made news in at least two state newspapers.

Health News Florida decided to pick two types of professionals that aren't covered under the background-check law and see what could be found at no charge, just using state search sites and Google. A check of dentists and allied mental-health fields turned up nine cases in which licensees’ criminal convictions were not mentioned on their license records.

They include three therapists convicted in cocaine or prescription drug cases; two men accused of sex crimes with minors; two tax evaders, and two thieves. Four served time in jail; two are still there.

On the DOH website, none of those convictions is mentioned. In fact, most of the offenders’ licenses are marked “Clear/Active” with no past discipline and no pending complaints.

When Health News Florida brought this to the attention of DOH Secretary and Surgeon General Frank Farmer, he said he was concerned.

“I’ll check into it and see what the story is,” Farmer said.

Attorneys familiar with Florida laws governing the health professions say DOH is authorized to do criminal background checks only on nurses, medical and osteopathic physicians, chiropractors and podiatrists.

Not mentioned are dentists and 29 others, including pharmacists, optometrists, acupuncturists, midwives and psychologists.

If there was logic at work in the Legislature’s choice of professions to scrutinize, it’s not obvious. For example, a pharmacy owner requires a background check, but not a pharmacist. A prosthetic fitter gets checked, but not a hearing-aid specialist.

Advanced registered nurse practitioners must undergo background checks, while physician assistants don’t.

Expanding the background checks to cover the missing professions would not require a state expense. Licensees have to pay for the screening every two years; for most, it costs $43.25.

But this is not a time when Florida officials seem eager to ramp up oversight of the private sector. Both Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders are currently rolling back rules and regulations.

DOH has not aggressively sought the authority to cross-check licensees against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s database. The agency depends on licensees to report themselves.

All those who apply for a Florida health professional license are asked to disclose criminal convictions on the form. If they’re already licensed when the arrest occurs, they are supposed to notify DOH within 30 days of a conviction (or plea of no contest).

For example, William Earl Hayes, a now-retired mental-health counselor in Miami, kept his license clear for more than a decade even as his name and picture circulated on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s sex-offender registry.

Nobody ever told DOH, which is fine with him. He said, “I don’t want to open a can of worms. I don’t need the aggravation.”

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  • by Thinker Location: Florida on May 17, 2011 at 10:31 AM
    Ms. Gentry's article is simple sensationalism. Those folks who don't pay their taxes should in NO WAY be in the same category with drug addiction, sex crime, or thievery. In naming (a) NAME (not names), Ms. Gentry successfully sullies Dr. Goldston's name - and ONLY his name - in her article. One must wonder if Ms. Gentry's logic is due for a checkup, or does she hold drug addicts, sex offenders and thieves in higher regard? Perhaps she simply has a vendetta against the good doctor.
  • by Drinky Crow on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:18 AM
    My only problem with this dentist not paying his taxes is that he got caught. Should have been smarter about it. Now, admit it, who amongst us wouldn't skip paying taxes if we thought that we could get away with it. Criminal? This man is a hero for our times! ;-)
    • reply
      by Steve on Apr 22, 2011 at 01:15 PM in reply to Drinky Crow
      As a PROUD American and Democrat, I would not think about skipping paying taxes. Taxes are very necessary evils that pay for things like road construction, K-12 education, a little help for our elderly and less privileged, etc... I am sorry that you would cheat on your taxes if you felt you could get away with it. Enjoy looking in the mirror tonight when you go to bed.
      • reply
        by Drinky Crow on Apr 22, 2011 at 02:48 PM in reply to Steve
        Um, Sorry you missed that little winky thing at the end of my post Stevie boy, but you can unbunch those panties of yours. I guess I should have ended with ***SARCASM!***. Then again, Democrats never did have much of a sense of humor when it comes to taking other people's money. FWIW, I have no problem looking in the mirror.
  • by cori on Apr 22, 2011 at 09:07 AM
    I am a Registered Dental Hygienist. About a 2 yrs. ago, a temporary hygienist at my office was WITNESSED stealing an entire prescription pad, and shortly following was caught trying to fill bogus narcotic prescriptions. We contacted TPD, DEA, and DOH the VERY DAY of the theft. No action was taken on their part. She is STILL practicing hygiene with a clear license, and doing temp. work all over the city.
    • reply
      by anon on Apr 22, 2011 at 12:19 PM in reply to cori
      who is this hygenist.... and who does she works for
  • by Terri Location: tallahassee on Apr 22, 2011 at 08:38 AM
    Robert, we do not know the whole story behind this person's tax evasion. Everyone knows they must pay their taxes every year. It isn't rocket science and this guy isn't too stupid to know that. My problem is that the Dept of Health is too stupid to flag the license of those "professionals" that are sex offenders. Did you read the who article?
  • by Anonymous on Apr 22, 2011 at 07:36 AM
    robert Location: tallahassee on Apr 22, 2011 at 09:22 AM- you are right, the fact that he committed a crime does not diminish is ability as a dentist. However the mindset of the public is, if you commit a crime you'r rendered retarded. The prison system spends big bucks educating inmates that businesses, both public/private WILL NOT HIRE BECAUSE THEY HAVE A CRIMINAL RECORD! Thaat's asinine! The fact they have served their time, paid their fines and paid the debt for the crime is irrevelent to the public. What's the point of educating them? If a person is considered a criminal for the remainder to his life & not worthy of holding a job, why not keep him locked up for the remainder of his life? This man is educated and trained as a dentist, he has served his time and he should keep his license. Even employing him as a publiic employee would harm no one and with his ability he can serve the greater good. I know people that have obtained college degrees after their release and kept their live straight, however, when they apply for jobs and the background checks shows a previous record, their resumes are thrown in the trash and they are not called for interviews even though their exceptional abilities would benefit employers both public & private. Society could do well to drop its holier-than-thou mentality.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Apr 22, 2011 at 01:17 PM in reply to
      I agree. However, it should be public knowledge. Just like I would not want to live near a registered sex offender if I had kids, I would much rather have my dental work done by an honest American who pays his/her taxes like the rest of us, NOT somebody that thinks they are special and do not need to pay taxes.
  • by No Shocker Location: Florida on Apr 22, 2011 at 07:03 AM
    This is a moot issue anyway to Pink Slip Rick and FL Teabagger-Repub Legislature who are making our laws. Their focus is to keep and bring more businesses to FL, no matter the cost, in creating jobs even if practitioners have been arrested and convicted of felonies. Their record speaks for itself not giving a hoot about the safety and welfare of Floridians! Vote for positive real change in 2012 by electing Democratic candidates that care about what happens to us.
  • by robert Location: tallahassee on Apr 22, 2011 at 06:22 AM
    Does having a criminal record make him a bad dentist? If the person is not violent, not a drug addict or a sex offender, does that make them a threat to public safety? This is prvate practice, not a public employee. How is he going to pay that huge fine doing landscaping?
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