A well-known Miami dentist, who says he was forced to lose his practice in 2008, is back in business.
Dr. Rene Piedra’s bankruptcy case is wrapping up. Meanwhile, dozens of patients claim they are still owed money for dental work that was incomplete or never started.
Five years ago Piedra’s sedation dentistry practice in Coral Gables had thousands of patients and was taking in millions of dollars.
“In ’05 he did 7.2 million, in ’06, he did 8.6 million, in ’07 did almost $8 million and then everything started collapsing,” said bankruptcy trustee Barry Makumal.
In response to written questions, Piedra wrote he was “unprepared for the dramatic turn the economy would take” and “would have liked nothing more than to continue that practice providing exceptional dental care.”
A former patient, Rolando Barrero, said “I feel that I was not only robbed, I feel I was violated.”
Barrero went to see Piedra in 2005. He has a copy of the check he gave the dentist for more than $19,000 before starting an extensive treatment plan that called for scaling and crowns. Barrero said none of this was done. “No. Nothing, nothing.”
Barrero claims he repeatedly tried to make appointments with Piedra but was only given excuses.
“You can see the letter my attorney sent him requesting the return of money. We never receive the money we never receive any answer” said Barrero.
Barrero is among the many creditors listed in Piedra’s bankruptcy case.
Arising from that bankruptcy came a claim against the Church of Scientology , related enterprises and high ranking church officials, according to the court appointed trustee and his attorney.
“The business side of the practice was encouraged by the church and its affiliates and obviously there was a deep connection between the two,” said Makumal.
That connection was discovered when financial documents were pulled, specifically for years 2005 to 2008, by the bankruptcy trustee.
“In the midst of all this we find out that a certain amount of money over the course of that fraudulent transfer period was paid to Church of Scientology entities,” said the trustee’s attorney Frank Terzo.
That is the crux of the complaint. The trustee states Piedra’s practice “perpetrated a scheme to defraud patients,” and in the four years prior to the bankruptcy filing approximately $2.2 million were transferred from the practice to various Church of Scientology-related entities.
“We did settle with the church for almost, with all the affiliates approximately $400,000,” said Makumal.
The Church of Scientology wrote NBC Miami: “These defendants were not involved in the management of Dr. Piedra’s practice . They were innocent third parties drawn into a controversy they did not create.”
Regarding the accusations in the complaint, Piedra said a trial “ would ultimately have proven the trustee’s allegations incorrect. I chose instead to reach a settlement with the trustee.”
Now the trustee is looking into claims from disgruntled former patients like attorney Monica Albarello. In 2006 she was approved for a $5,000 line of credit for Invisalign to straighten her teeth, which was never completed.
“I got one filling and three trays out of twelve” said Albarello.
She stopped going to Piedra’s practice after he suggested additional treatments were required before continuing with Invisalign
“So I called Dr. Piedra’s office and told them my second opinion dentist told me that I have nothing that you guys are finding. I asked for a refund but they refused because we had started treatment so I didn’t get my money back,” Albarello said.
Meanwhile, Piedra has opened a new practice in Pinecrest.
“To know he’s practicing again it’s upsetting. I don’t think he should,” said Albarello.
“People that took less money than him has been in jail for a long time. I don’t understand how he can do what he is doing now,” said Barrero
Piedra said he is no longer associated with the Church of Scientology. Once the bankruptcy proceeding is completed, he claims he will work with each patient to verify what they paid, what treatment was received what they are owed and how he can make it right.