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Molest Probe Finds ‘Dark Ages’ Dental Clinic

Times Staff Writer

Police officers investigating a child molestation complaint in Van Nuys stumbled onto a clandestine dental clinic “like something out of the Dark Ages” that drew hundreds of illegal aliens as patients, authorities said Friday.

The clinic, located in a Spanish-style house, was littered with dental tools, bridgework, drugs and a porcelain spit bowl that channeled blood and saliva through a pipe into the backyard, Los Angeles Police Detective Steve Merrin said.

Electricians’ pliers apparently were used to pull teeth, he said. “The place was a filthy mess, just absolutely disgusting,” he said.

Police, who discovered the clinic Thursday, arrested Carmen Cevallos, 29, on suspicion of running an illegal dental practice and Carlos Andrade, 34, on suspicion of child molestation, Lt. L. A. Durrer said. Both are suspected of treating patients, he said, although neither is a licensed dentist.

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Natives of Ecuador

Cevallos and Andrade, who police said are natives of Ecuador now living in Van Nuys, were released on bail early Friday. They declined comment as they left the Van Nuys police station.

Merrin and two other detectives had gone to the home in the 6100 block of Hazeltine Avenue a week after a woman complained that her 6-year-old daughter had been molested at a dentist’s office there.

Investigators Surprised

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Police were startled to discover the extent of the clinic, which filled the three-bedroom home, along with records of more than 200 patients, Merrin said.

The records indicated that the business had thrived for at least a year and that some patients paid thousands of dollars for dental and orthodontic work, Merrin said.

“The word was out in the neighborhood that if you need a dentist you just go over and see this guy,” he said.

An official of the California State Board of Dental Examiners, which licenses dentists, said the board investigates 20 to 25 reports of unlicensed dentists a year. But police said they had never seen conditions like those uncovered here.

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Teeth impressions were “thrown all over the floor” and cockroaches had crawled inside an autoclave designed to sterilize instruments, Merrin said.

The office “had a bad odor, like something out of the Dark Ages, some crypt or tomb,” he said.

Prosecutions in such cases often are difficult because the suspects flee and set up operations elsewhere, said Georgetta Coleman, executive officer of the state dental board. In addition, patients often are reluctant to cooperate with police, either because of fear of deportation or because they sympathize with the suspects, authorities said.

Woman Pleads Guilty

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A Filipino woman who had eluded authorities for six years until her arrest in June pleaded guilty last month to practicing dentistry without a license in Los Angeles. The woman, Purificacion Santos Perez, 49, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 25, Los Angeles city attorney’s office spokesman Mike Qualls said.

‘Bloody Gauze’

Police and dental officials said illegal aliens may be attracted to such clandestine dental offices because licensed dentists normally require patients to fill out applications and provide Social Security and driver’s license numbers.

When detectives approached the Van Nuys home Thursday afternoon, “a little girl came out the front door,” Merrin said. “She had bloody gauze in her mouth.”

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“I walked in and the first thing I saw was an old-style dental chair that you might see in the ‘50s, and there was an X-ray machine strapped over it,” he said.

‘Complete Dental Setup’

In another room, detectives discovered “a complete dental setup, with the trays and the viewing lights and the X-ray viewing panels and drugs all over the place, antibiotics, Darvon, Lidocaine for numbing the gums,” Merrin said.

As police questioned those inside, a 14-year-old girl arrived with her parents. She said her family had paid more than $400 for her braces two months ago and they were falling out, Merrin said.

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Merrin said that when police asked the girl why she had her dental work done there, she replied: “I told my parents that this place was dirty and that they don’t know what they are doing, but they said this was all that they could do, they couldn’t do anything else.”

As police loaded needles, drugs, dental drills, teeth impressions and other material into boxes, “a pair of bloody scissors poked up through the box and went right into my hand,” said Merrin, who later received a tetanus shot and an injection of penicillin.

‘Go Home and Shower’

“I’ve been a policeman 14 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Merrin said. “When we came out of there, you feel like you want to go home and take a shower.”

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An investigator for the dental board met with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office Friday to discuss the case. The findings of the police and dental board investigations will be presented to the district attorney next week, Assistant Dist. Atty. Christine Thurman said.


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