Cherie R. Dillon is currently serving a 5 year sentence in a federal prison for healthcare fraud and identity theft. The only public information about her case (besides my previous blog post) comes from the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release and some media reports that seem to be primarily based on that press release. Cherie’s husband came across my blog post about her case and mailed it to her. He then contacted me to share some inside information about the case and to tell me that Cherie wanted to share her side of the story with the hope that I would share it. Below is the letter Cherie sent me. The original letter is hand written and a little difficult to read, so I had to transcribe it here for those not reading it on a desktop computer : ). Before reading Cherie’s letter I would recommend reading the US Attorney’s Office press release and the newspaper article linked below for context.
My husband sent me your blog. I never thought I would be where I am at 62 years of age. When I retired I had wanted to advocate for dental hygiene independence/practitioner. Things are not always as they might lead you to believe in the news. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to respond. In 2005 Dr. Fricke / Dr. Carroll and myself wanted to open a mom and pop dental office in Payette, Idaho. We collaborated with an attorney and an accountant / manager. Dr. Fricke had sold his practice in Boise, but he still wanted to work on a limited basis. Having consulted with the attorney it was decided (because there was a lot of gray area in the Idaho code which said you must be in the dental profession to own a dental office) that we would put the office in my name. Dr. Fricke only wanted to do the actual dentistry. I agreed that I would be responsible for everything else. It was a great opportunity for me and I loved the challenge. I never had any idea I would end up in prison because of this. The first 2 years I did not make anything, but everything got paid and that was good. I knew it was going to be like that and we lived off what my husband made from his military retirement. The first few years went fine. I would see the patients first to screen them and then set them up with the dentist for the work to be done. About 6 years in Dr. Fricke’s health started to fail. It started off with little things which snowballed into much more. Sometimes he didn’t show up for work, other times he came and started a procedure only to tell me “You can finish this and I will check it when it is done”. We went along like that for a awhile. It came to the point when I just could not do it anymore and told Dr. Fricke we needed to hire some fill in dentists and we did. It was his intention to get better and continue to work. The contracting dentists knew they were filling in for him and that he told me to continue to bill everything out under the umbrella “Dental Healthcare with Heart” Dr. Fricke’s office. This is where the fraud comes in. Even though Dr. Fricke said to bill it like that it was considered fraud because the other dentists’ names were not on the insurance form. The identity theft was thrown on top of the counts because I used his stamp signature. Again with him knowing everything that was going on. I went to his house every Wednesday with all the charts and x-rays, charts and impressions for him to review. I would chart his notes and suggestions on the treatment plan and then give those charts/ x-rays, etc. to the attending dentist telling them this is what Dr. Fricke saw, but if they saw something different then absolutely do it their way. I will admit that I lead the contracting dentists to believe Dr. Fricke was there every week even though he came sporadically. He did see the x-rays and charts BEFORE the attending dentist did. It all blew up when one of our employees was caught phoning in prescriptions for herself and her boyfriend for Vicodin. In comes the Board of Dentistry, the Board of Pharmacy and the FBI. There is so much more to tell you, but I guess the details can wait for another time. I NEVER TOLD ANYONE I WAS A DENTIST! In fact I ALWAYS said I am just the hygienist, but this is what I think. I would then call Dr. Fricke and get permission to phone in the prescription. NOTHING WAS EVER BILLED OUT THAT WAS NOT DONE. We worked on people who had no money for little or nothing. One woman we traded pies for dentistry. Others were just free. We did not turn people away. Yes, I did do things beyond the scope a dental hygienist is allowed to do. But a lot of the [criminal] charges came from billing out an exam and cleaning when the dentist was not there. Dr. Fricke had taught me how to do a lot and he knew I would do it right because I was a perfectionist. So fast forward to me getting an attorney who told me you cannot talk to the Attorney General’s Office which is what I wanted to do in the first place without immunity and they would not agree to that. We closed Dental Healthcare with Heart December 2013. Two years pass without hearing anymore and then I got more papers and a different attorney who I thought was better, but he was not. The trial started in January 2016. All I ever wanted to do was tell someone what happened, but no one wanted to hear it. On day 4 of the trial I wanted to pull my hair out. My attorney was not questioning or redirecting. He sighed and set back on his chair in defeat. Then he talked to the prosecutor and came back and said I did not have a chance and to just plead guilty and they wouldn’t go after anything else and it would just be 2 years. Well, that did not happen! At sentencing the judge chastised my supporters (close to 75 people) and their support (friends, families, Drs. all wrote letters) and told me it was going to be 5 years and 1.5 million dollars. I could not believe it. You see stuff like this on 20/20 or Dateline or 60 minutes. We never made that kind of money during the whole time we had the office. You might be at this point wondering why I pleaded guilty. Because the attorney told me to and I was just at the end of my rope. I should have never pleaded guilt. Now I am in prison for 5 years (my husband and I are also raising our 3-year-old grandson) and now it is just my husband. You can never imagine how stressful court is and the embellishing of small things and then calling it the truth. And the threats to people to get them to testify. If I could go back I would have done things differently. I thought Dr. Fricke and I were friends (NOT). He threw me under the bus. The judge also told me I could never work in health care again. I wouldn’t want to… I am trading my advocacy from dental hygienist to prison reform. That is a whole other story. This is no place for old women. There are no programs, the guards and staff are hostile, all I do is eat and sleep and unfortunately the tax payers are paying for it. I hope to see some version of this letter in your blog. Tell Angie, Teresa, Meg LeMaster that if anything rings true I would like to hear their comments. This is my interpretation of what really happened. You never should judge someone without hearing both sides!
Cherie Dillon, RDH