Schiffner, 55, is finally in the home stretch after his wife, Teresa Schiffner, 53, filed multiple grievances against the Fargo dental office where he initially sought care.
“Mine was the first complaint to get it started,” she said.
On Oct. 20, state District Judge Bobbi Weiler ordered the dental office, Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures, to pay more than $237,400 in restitution and $25,000 in civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and investigation costs.
The order said the business improperly charged fees against patient accounts for services not actually provided, or fees that were not properly disclosed ahead of time.
Parrell Grossman, head of the state’s consumer protection division, said more than 500 affected patients have been identified through a review of records.
The business at 4302 13th Ave. S., Suite 10, in Fargo has since paid the penalties and restitution to the state, which will be returned to those patients through refunds, Grossman said.
Those named in the order include owner and president Robert Bates, D.D.S., of Clarence, New York, and David Pennington of Palm Harbor, Florida, president of DP Business Services. The men also co-owned an assisting business known as Fargo Dental Support.
“They fully cooperated. They’ve been sanctioned,” Grossman said.
Though the state maintains the conduct was wrongful, those named in the court action do not admit any violation of law. Under the order, all parties are prohibited from charging such fees in the future.
A phone message left for Bates was not returned and The Forum was unable to reach Pennington. A phone message left for corporate counsel in Syracuse, New York, was not returned.
Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures and its supporting businesses were sold on Aug. 1, according to court documents. However, the new owners have not changed the name of the dental office.
The business released a statement on Thursday, Oct. 28, saying in part, there was “no admission of liability” with the resolution of the case and that it was “focused entirely on past administrative accounting procedures that are no longer in place.”
The business said it agreed to the resolution to avoid protracted litigation and to focus on “high-quality care to our patients.”
Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures issued the above statement in response to a court case that alleged the dental business improperly charged fees against patient accounts for services not actually provided.
The Schiffners settled their complaint with Pennington separately for $4,400 and are happy about the state’s action against the business and Bates and Pennington, who have a history of complaints over prepayments for unfulfilled dental work.
“They’ve done this before,” Teresa Schniffer said.
In January 2011, thousands of patients nationwide were left without care when Allcare Dental & Dentures abruptly closed its network of offices.
Founded by Bates and Pennington, Allcare said it was “severely cash constrained” and had no way to continue operating, according to media reports at the time.
Attorneys general in at least a dozen states were involved in the investigation of the Pennsylvania-based company, according to Forum reports.
One of the Allcare offices that closed was in the same space where Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures is located.
More than 91 complaints about Allcare were filed in North Dakota over prepaid dental care that was never done, to the tune of about $278,000, Grossman said at the time.
Former patients weren’t alone in seeking money from Fargo’s Allcare. After the closure, the business’ landlord sued in civil court for back rent and fees totaling more than $21,500.
Allcare was also the subject of a $135,000 consumer protection settlement two years prior, in April 2009. That settlement addressed complaints that the business did not honor advertised discounts and used confusing information in promotions, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s website.
Grossman has previously said pre-charging for dental work is not a good practice. He’s suggested patients pay only a portion of charges in advance and make the final payment upon completion of the service, if possible.
When Kevin Schiffner sought care at Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures in July 2020, he was told that all of his teeth and part of his jawbone would need to be removed in preparation for dentures.
He and wife Teresa met with a staff member who said they’d need to take out a $15,000 loan before any work could start, which they did, she said. A few weeks later, Kevin had the surgery, and was told everything was on track.
But when he went into the office in December 2020 for his final fittings, previous staff members, including his dentist, were gone, and new staff were in place, Teresa said.
The couple was told the previous staff had quit. Though they felt upset and abandoned, she said they had no choice but to continue there because they’d prepaid for Kevin’s care.
In February of this year, Kevin was fitted for dentures but they kept falling out, Teresa said.
The business also began charging them for additional visits, even though everything was supposed to have been covered under their “worry-free” denture plan. The bill grew into thousands of dollars, she said.
Soon after, the Schiffners located Kevin’s previous dentist, who told the couple he and the staff had been fired from Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures months before and weren’t allowed to take any patients with them.
In addition to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, Teresa contacted the state Board of Dental Examiners, which held a special meeting on Feb. 11 to address her complaint and others about Fargo Moorhead Dental & Dentures. The board voted unanimously to investigate the complaints.
After reaching the $4,400 settlement with Pennington in March, the couple paid that amount to their original dentist, who agreed to finish the denture job without charging any more, Teresa said.
She’s relieved about the order, and said people shouldn’t be afraid to challenge something they think isn’t right.
“People are going to keep getting away with this stuff, and you’ve got to stand up. Things are too expensive not to,” she said.