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Criminal conviction for conduct that was partial basis of earlier discipline can justify further discipline

A dentist who pleaded guilty to criminal charges can be disciplined for that conviction even if the investigation for that case involved patients whose treatment formed the basis of an earlier disciplinary sanction for that licensee, an Illinois appeals court ruled December 20.

(Danigeles vs. Department of Financial and Professional Regulation)

In 2012, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation filed a complaint against dentist Athina Danigeles, accusing her of billing insurance companies for services that she never performed. In 2014, the Department revoked Danigeles’s license for five years and issued a $125,000 fine.

Then, in 2015, she pleaded guilty to criminal charges for similar transgressions. Although the criminal investigation involved the same patients whose non-treatment featured in her disciplinary case, her guilty plea covered her actions in the treatment of a different patient.

This was not first set of offenses for Danigeles. Since her initial licensure in 1987, she had been disciplined on three different prior occasions, twice for billing for services she had not performed. During the disciplinary process that followed her conviction, she attempted to explain her repeated transgressions as the result of working long hours while raising a family and not paying attention to the business side of her practice.

Following a hearing on the 2015 charges, the board recommended that the Department again revoke Danigeles’s license, this time for eight years, concurrent with the five-year revocation it imposed in 2014. The Department enacted this recommendation and fined Danigeles $10,000.

Danigeles appealed, and the case eventually rose to a state Court of Appeals. She argued that the second eight-year revocation was improperly levied for conduct that had already been punished by the five-year revocation, and that mitigating factors should have led the Department to issue her a lesser sanction.

In support of the first claim, Danigeles argued that, although her criminal guilty plea was for fraudulent billing of a different patient from those whose non- treatment formed the basis of her earlier disciplinary case, because the criminal investigation of her conduct that led to that plea had also focused on the same patients as in that earlier disciplinary case, the more recent 2015 disciplinary case was improperly based on the same conduct that led to her earlier discipline in 2012.

The court disagreed. “While it may be true that the indictment in the federal case encompassed more patients, the offense to which plaintiff entered a guilty plea concerned only” a patient not involved in the earlier disciplinary case, wrote Judge Mary Rochford. Additionally, as the director of the Department had noted in the disciplinary decision, “although the case in federal court involved most of the same patients, ‘most’ was not ‘the exact same.'”

Regarding Danigeles’s claim that the eight-year revocation was overly harsh, the court again disagreed with the dentist, noting that the Department had stated that it had considered her mitigating evidence, but based the revocation, in part, on the fact that Danigeles “showed a lack of understanding that her actions defrauded insurers and should not be repeated.”

The court affirmed the Department’s discipline.