Sonia Jacob Alex, DDS, entered into a disciplinary consent order with the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners (NCSBDE), which suspended her dental license for two years, on March 8, 2022.
The suspension was lifted with a five-year conditional probationary period. She is required to retain a CPA firm independent of herself or her entities, and L2 Management, LLC (L2), a dental service organization (DSO) affiliated with Alex in North Carolina and “other states.”
That independent CPA firm “shall send direct to the Board’s Director of Investigations the Annual Compilation Report, which summary shall include an analysis of the findings concerning aggregate payments made to L2 or any related entities, any profit distributions to professional entities or Respondent (Alex), and copies of the filed tax returns for the professional entities.”
Alex will also be required to “make all hiring and termination decisions for all dentists and ancillary personnel.” She will also be required attending in person or video conference, to communicate for a minimum of eight cumulative hours each quarter with dentists, practice managers, and ancillary employees.
Alex may divest her interest in her professional entities only conditionally. If the management agreements with L2 remain in effect, subsequent practice owners must be advised and also agree to comply with conditions of this current consent order.
Alex resides and practices dentistry in Indiana. She works for Gentle Dentist in Indiana, which is a brand under Mortenson Dental Partners. The two general dentistry practices she allegedly beneficially owns in North Carolina are managed by L2.
L2 is a DSO registered in Delaware, which provides Alex with non-clinical, business services to her two clinics in North Carolina and other states. The consent agreement did not cite the other states in which Alex owned practices, and L2 acted as her affiliated DSO.
L2 is headquartered in Oak Park, Illinois. The DSO’s president and co-founder is James Lucci, a non-dentist. Lucci is most commonly associated with Destiny Dental, which operates in four states: Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Interestingly, Dun and Bradstreet lists Sonia Alex as the key principle and owner for Destiny Dental.
Alex’ two dental practices in North Carolina are owned by Alex and Associates, PC. Alex and Associates list their authorized agent as “Mr. Boris Labinov.” Concurrently, Labinov has served as chief financial officer (CFO) for L2, since 2018.
What sparked the investigation by the NCSBDE was an employee dentist’s complaint about a lack of autoclave spore testing. Moreover, the office manager reported he had only spoken to Alex on a single occasion, prior to the Board’s investigation. The NCSBDE quickly discovered two dental practices were not being appropriately managed by a duly licensed dentist and that doctor was residing (Indianapolis, Indiana) and working (Fishers, Indiana) in a different and distant state.
Dentistry Today has alerted dentists to risks associated with nominal practice ownership especially in states outlawing the corporate practice of medicine/dentistry. A doctor serving as a strawman practice owner is directly in the crosshairs of potential liabilities.
The NCSBDE will analyze the CPA accounting findings and discover where the clinic’s profits are flowing. Is a professional corporation unlawfully fee-splitting with a DSO? Is an unlicensed entity (DSO) engaged in the unlicensed and unlawful practice of dentistry? Are the DSO’s billings for services unreasonable and exceptional, as to bleed off profits from the professional corporation, and assert beneficial ownership? Is a doctor unlawfully enabling the practice of dentistry by an unlicensed entity?
Under terms of the consent order with the NCSBDE, Alex’ formal professional discipline is reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank. Data becomes easily accessible public record for every state in which she is licensed or seeks future licensure.
It was disclosed that Alex received substantial annual compensation for providing “consulting services” for L2 in other states.
Consulting services should never be conflated with serving as a fake-owner dentist for a DSO.
The consent order also held that Alex fully cooperated with investigators and requested information was produced in a timely manner. Alex in fact received no compensation for the practices she allegedly owned in North Carolina. The NCSBDE further stated that Alex “is of good character and reputation in her community.”
Although Alex undoubtably experienced significant stress in this entire ordeal, one must hold reservations if she is the ultimate target of the NCSBDE’s investigations.
Who knows if or when another shoe will drop?
NOTE: Comments were requested from the NCSBDE, Dr. Sonia Alex, and Mortenson Dental Partners. None have been received as of publication.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Michael W. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He also provides attorney clients with legal expert witness work and consultation. Davis also currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer Review Committee. He can be reached at MWDavisDDS@Comcast.net.
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