4 Investigates: Can the state stop an Albuquerque dentist from pulling teeth?
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Since 4 Investigates began following Albuquerque dentist William Gardner’s battles with former patients and the New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care, a series of appeals, stays, new allegations, and criminal cases have seemingly kept his office doors open no matter who tells him to stop practicing dentistry.
With Gardner now facing criminal charges of unlicensed dentistry and a probation violation stemming from a plea agreement in a tax fraud case, KOB viewers have asked why authorities can’t simply put a lock on Gardner’s office door.
Joseph Dworak, division director for boards and commissions at the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, says Gardner’s case is unique. For one, he’s filed what seems to be a never-ending series of appeals in many of the dental board’s decisions. It’s something Gardner is entitled to do in many cases, Dworak notes, but most licensees overseen by the state – there are more than 100,000 across the various regulated professions – eventually abide by board discipline.
In Gardner’s case, he has not.
“There has been a number of decisions and orders and settlements that there has been non-compliance with,” Dworak says.
He points out that a settlement is something licensees do not have to sign if they don’t like the terms, but once signed, carries the force of law.
“A settlement agreement in these administrative proceedings is the equivalent of a contract between two parties,” he says.
While the dental board has succeeded in revoking Gardner’s license to practice, that’s the limit of the board’s authority. A number of civil suits have been filed against Gardner over the years, but those haven’t forced him to close his doors, either.
Earlier this year, Gardner signed off on a plea agreement in a criminal case to resolve more than three dozen charges of tax fraud. Part of the agreement was that he wouldn’t practice dentistry. But a special prosecutor appointed by the 2nd Judicial District Attorney says that’s exactly what Gardner has been doing.
4 Investigates reviewed medical records from a former patient that seem to indicate he’s been examining patients, setting up treatment plans and even sending automated appointment reminders as recently as August. It’s evidence prosecutors have access to as they pursue both a probation violation and the new charges of practicing dentistry without a license.
Dworak says the Regulation and Licensing Department encourages the public to file a complaint when they suspect something isn’t right with a licensee, something that has happened in Gardner’s case.