Local Government

McHenry County Board committee examines limited options in wake of scathing dental audit

WOODSTOCK – A McHenry County Board committee frustrated with the likelihood that prosecuting several dentists accused of double-billing at the taxpayers expense would not succeed instead wants action taken against the dentists’ licenses.

The Finance and Audit Committee recommended the course of action after representatives from the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office explained to committee members why it did not intend to go after the dentists named in a scathing 2014 audit of a now-discontinued grant program to give low-income veterans access to dental care. Several committee members had asked at a previous meeting for a more detailed explanation of why charges would not be filed. Committee Chairman Mike Skala, R-Huntley, said the committee was satisfied with the reasoning.

The conflicting testimony in the audit between the dentists and their former boss, retired Public Health Administrator Patrick McNulty, would prove a difficult problem to overcome, committee members were told. And while cost is not a factor the state’s attorney’s office weighs when considering pressing charges, the committee had to confront reality: The cost to take the dentists to court would far exceed the total amount of grant money in question.

“I’m still just as frustrated as I was before. It’s still very frustrating, but I feel that … at least reporting [the dentists] to whatever the state agency is, that maybe we’ll get some justice in the end. Maybe not. But we shouldn’t spend good taxpayer money to go after someone and spend two, three, four times what was inappropriately spent,” Skala said.

The internal audit made public by the County Board in June uncovered systemic problems with how the McHenry County Cooperative Dental Clinic administered the five-year program, which was funded through a state grant and the county Veterans Assistance Commission. Double-billing, conflicts of interest and misuse of taxpayer resources abounded under the program, according to the 36-page review supervised by county Auditor Pam Palmer.

Veterans who were referred to the program were supposed to be diagnosed at the county dental clinic and then referred to local dentists for treatment. But almost all of that work went to two dentists under contract with the clinic – they were paid not only for their hourly rates, but also for the work done, much of which took place not at their offices but at the taxpayer-owned clinic in Woodstock.

Of the $150,739 paid out to treat 41 veterans, more than $100,000 went to dentist Michael Koehne, who was married to Diane Metrick, the dentist who supervised the county clinic – the two own a dental practice in Wheaton. The third dentist, C. Eric Mayer, who received $45,659, works in Richmond. The program lasted from 2007 to 2012.

About $95,000 of the program was funded by an Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs grant, while the county veterans’ commission, which is funded through a special property-tax levy, made up the difference.

The hurdle to pursuing charges is conflicting statements between the dentists and McNulty, state’s attorney’s office Criminal Division Chief Michael Combs said.

The dentists said McNulty knew about and approved allowing veterans to have their work done at the clinic, while McNulty told investigators he had no knowledge of it, according to the audit. Besides boiling down to a question of whose version is accurate, prosecutors would not be able to prove criminal behavior on the dentists’ part if the jury concluded their supervisor granted permission to do that work.

But the committee also has to weigh the cost of pursuing the matter. Because the dentists were working for the county, they could ask the county to pay the costs of their legal defense, which would be far more than the grant funds scrutinized by the county auditor’s office.

Double-billing was just one of the many issues uncovered by the audit.

It concluded more efforts should have been made to find other dentists besides Metrick’s husband – the audit called the arrangement a conflict of interest because she signed off on her husband’s contractual hours and reimbursements.

It also concluded Metrick was not working her full 37.5 hours a week she was getting paid for – the audit said she split her time working for the DuPage County Veterans Assistance Commission and as a dental insurance claims adjuster. But DuPage County VAC Board President Joseph Craig disputes that finding – he said Metrick was consulted only once, unpaid, for a grant request.

Metrick's salary at the time of her resignation following the audit’s 2014 internal release was $142,459, not including benefits. Koehne and Mayer likewise resigned at about the same time.

Committee member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, said he and other finance committee members are angry the committee’s options are limited and not in the taxpayers’ best interests.

“I’m frustrated that we don’t have the legal means to provide a more justice-based response to this issue. I’m not a legal scholar, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a board member and a taxpayer. When I read that audit, it makes me angry, and the fact that veterans were involved increases that anger,” Provenzano said.

The committee agreed last week to ask the McHenry County Mental Health Board, which Skala said secured the veterans’ grant, to report the dentists to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which is in charge of licensing and regulating professionals. Should the Mental Health Board decline to do so, the committee will ask the full County Board to do so, Skala said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has since been changed to add a rebuttal from the DuPage County VAC's president alleging that the audit's portrayal of Metrick's work relationship with the agency is inaccurate.

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