SAN DIEGO - He lost his license to practice dentistry years ago, but now it appears the subject of a 2009 Team 10 investigation is practicing dentistry again.
This time it appears he's using a false name to drum up business.
The Sales Pitch
Laurie Ann Willhite wanted to look her best for her vacation this summer. That meant finally getting rid of some troublesome teeth and replacing them with implants. Her dentist told her it would cost $8,500. Willhite simply didn't have that kind of cash.
Willhite saw an ad in the San Diego Reader. It said "Seeking Qualified Patients desiring dental implants who are willing to assist us in evaluating a new and improved dental implant system, with shorter treatment time." The ad said other health care providers may observe the treatment and that patients would be offered "greatly reduced fees."
She called the number for Apple Dental Implant Center and says the man who answered told her his name was Dr. Bob Franco. Franco told her he could place three implants for a total of $1,500. Willhite was thrilled.
Willhite said Dr. Bob Franco promised he would not let an unqualified person do the work. He would do it himself while other dentists watched and learned.
Dr. Bob Franco told Willhite he had an appointment open up for the following Monday. He told her to begin talking lots of vitamin C and Advil the day before her surgery. She agreed. That was when Willhite learned the procedure would be done in Mexico, and that she would drive across the border with the dentist she had never met.
Willhite told Team 10 the idea of driving to Mexico with Franco raised a red flag, but she decided to go anyway.
"He's very convincing, I mean I felt like we were best friends by the time I hung up," Willhite said.
When Willhite's roommate, Mary Ann Wilson, heard the details about Willhite's appointment she immediatly became suspicious.
"When she said she was going to meet him at his house I said he's a human trafficker. He's gonna take you over there and you're goinna become a sex slave and I'm never gonna see you again," Wilson said, only half-joking.
Wilson began searching online for any information about a dentist named Bob Franco. She found nothing. She then searched real estate sites to see who lived at the house in the Coronado Cays where her roommate was supposed to meet the dentist.
"I searched the address and I found a Dr. Robert Mansueto, and I'm like well that's Bob Franco," Wilson said.
Wilson then checked the San Diego Superior Court's website, where she found dozens of civil cases filed against a Robert Mansueto.
She turned to Google, and, in her words, "Bam!", she found a link to a 2009 Team 10 investigation into Dr. Robert Mansueto.
"And I was just horrified. Just.. I couldn't believe what I was reading," Wilson added.
The report said the Dental Board of California had revoked Mansueto's license to practice dentistry after a lengthy suspension prompted by patient complaints. It also revealed that Mansueto was still placing implants in patients mouths in Mexico. He didn't have a license to do so in either country.
Wilson wanted to hear the dentist's sales pitch for herself. She called the phone number on the advertisement.
"He told me that he was a dentist, Dr. Bob Franco, and that he would be performing the implants. He flat-out stated that," she recalled.
The man calling himself Dr. Bob Franco told Wilson he was booked up all week, but did have an opening the following day.
Wilson told Team 10 she had no intention of having any dental work done, but she wanted to meet the dentist face-to-face. Our cameras were in place before she arrived at home in the pricey Coronado Cays. She emerged about 15 minutes later smiling.
Wilson described her interaction with the man who called himself Dr. Bob.
"He's very persuasive. Very smooth-talking, very calming, it's like I know what I'm doing, you're in good hands, let's go."
But Wilson didn't go. She said she told the dentist she had forgotten her driver's license and didn't want to go to Mexico without her ID.
She claimed the dentist told her he could get her through the border, but she said she'd feel better if she went another time.
We asked her if the dentist had done any sort of examination. Wilson said she opened her mouth and he glanced inside, but didn't fill out a medical history form, take an x-ray or closely examine the problem areas in her mouth.
Wilson said Dr. Bob stated that he owned a dental implant company, and that he would be doing the oral surgery necessary to place the implants in her jaw.
The two agreed to do the procedure the following week, and Wilson said when the dentist went upstairs to get a business card she noticed a nameplate on a shelf that said Dr. Robert Mansueto.
Wilson walked out the door and handed the business card to Team 10.
The card didn't say Apple Dental, which was listed in the advertisement, but another company, AmerOss Dental Implants. The name Robert Franco, DDS was on the card and beneath it the words "Fellow, American Academy of Implant Dentistry."
Team 10 called the American Academy of Implant Dentistry where a spokesperson told us there was no member with that name, nor was there a fellow named Dr. Robert Franco. The AAID did have a record of Robert Mansueto being a general member in 1992. Mansueto has never been a fellow with the organization.
The spokesperson said they would be sending a "cease and desist" letter to the address listed on the card.
The address on Camino Del Rio South didn't have any listing for AmerOss Implants, but it there was a listing on the information board that said Exalt Financial Consulting, a company owned by Robert Mansueto. The company had the same phone number as the one listed on the AmerOss business card.
We checked the website for AmerOss, and it had a different address listed. We went there and learned suite number 403 was actually a post office box inside a UPS Store. Mansueto owns the post office box.
Tijuana Road Trip
Dr. Bob had set up appointment times for both Wilson and Willhite between 11 a.m. and noon. On a hunch, we decided to go to the house the day after Wilson's visit to see if any other prospective patients showed up.
Just like the day before, we saw the car registered to Robert Mansueto parked in the driveway of his Coronado home. Within a few minutes a car pulled up, and we watched as the doctor appeared to point out where the woman should park. The man and a second woman got in Mansueto's car and drove to the spot where the first woman parked.
She got in Mansueto's car, which headed south, crossing the border into Mexico, and winding through the streets of Tijuana. Team 10 followed, but lost the car when it went through a yellow light.
We never learned where the car went, or the identities of the two women inside.
Six days later, we returned to Mansueto's neighborhood at the same time of day and saw the same scenario played out. Mansueto's car was in the driveway. A woman drove up and the same man appeared on the driveway, appearing to show her where to park. Several minutes later she got in his car and it headed for the border.
Team 10 traced the car to its owner the next day and knocked on the woman's door. She told us Dr. Bob Franco had taken her to a Tijuana dental clinic atop a parking garage where he drilled to implant posts into her lower jaw.
She agreed to tell us her story if we agreed to protect her identity.
She told us the man who called himself Dr. Bob said he could give her a full set of dental implants for less than a third of the $45,000 pricetag she'd been quoted by another dentist. She said she thought about checking into the dentist's credentials, but the price was too good to pass up, so she agreed to go to the dentist's home and drive to Tijuana where he told her he would perform the dental surgery.
When she arrived at his house, "Dr. Bob" took her upstairs so they could access her bank account through his computer. She gave him her banking information so he could withdraw the funds.
We asked if she had any second thoughts about the arrangement.
"I did before I met him," she said, "But when I met him I was completely confident in him. I really was. I had no fear that anything bad was going to happen."
She said she had no complaints until we told her that there is no Dr. Bob Franco licensed to practice dentistry in California, and that the house where she met the dentist was owned by a dentist who'd had his license to practice revoked by the state dental board.
She said she felt cheated as a consumer, even more so when we told her there is no record of Dr. Bob Franco or Dr. Robert Mansueto being licensed to practice in Mexico.
"I felt like a fool for not checking," she admitted.
Although her implants are only partially complete, she said she would not return to the dentist.
"I'm thinking now what do I do?"
The Unlicensed Dentist
We decided it was time to talk to the dentist to hear his side of the story. When Team 10 knocked on his door a young man told us he'd never heard of either Dr. Bob Franco or Robert Mansueto. As we left the house he came outside to apologize, saying Mansueto sometimes "stopped by" but said he didn't know what was going on.
Thirty minutes later, Mansueto's car pulled into the driveway, and we watched as he went inside the house. We knocked again. This time there was no answer.
We tried again the following day, but Mansueto's car wasn't there. Later in the day Team 10 was contacted by a Coronado Police Officer who said Mansueto told him we were not welcome. He also said Mansueto told him he was in the process of getting his license to practice dentistry in California reinstated.
The Dental Board of California had no information about that.
We asked a spokesperson for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, which includes the state Dental Board to answer two questions related to Mansueto:
Question: Is it against the law in California for an unlicensed dentist to advertise dental services?
Response: Yes. Pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 1701(f), any person who practices dentistry or offers to practice dentistry, either without a license, or when his license has been revoked or suspended, is guilty of a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for the second offense. Pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 1625(a), a person is deemed to be practicing dentistry when he advertises or represents himself as a dentist by card, circular, pamphlet, newspaper or in any other way.
Question: Is it illegal to use a name other than one's own on printed materials, while representing oneself as a legit dentist?
Response: Yes. Pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 1701(g), any person who, under any false, assumed or fictitious name practices, advertises or in any other manner indicates that he is practicing or will practice dentistry is guilty of a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for the second offense, unless the person is licensed and has been issued a valid permit pursuant to section 1701.5.
Business and Professions code 1701 lists the penalties for practicing dentistry without a license in the state of California:
1701. Any person is for the first offense guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punishable by a fine of not less than two hundred dollars ($200) or more than three thousand dollars ($3,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not to exceed six months, or both, and for the second or a subsequent offense is guilty of a felony and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not less than two thousand dollars ($2,000) nor more than six thousand dollars ($6,000), or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code, or by both such fine and imprisonment, who:
(f) Practices dentistry or offers to practice dentistry as it is defined in this chapter, either without a license, or when his license has been revoked or suspended.
The Law In Mexico
Team 10 also contacted several dental agencies in Mexico. As of this writing, they have not been able to find anything that indicates either Robert Mansueto or Bob Franco is licensed to practice there. It is illegal to perform dental surgery in Mexico without a license.
We found Mansueto's Blogspot online. In it he says he's a member of the Baja Dental Society and a visiting professor of implant dentistry at the Autonomous University of Baja.
Mexican authorities are checking to see whether that's true.
Dodged A Bullet
Laurie Ann Willhite said she's glad her roommate stopped her from getting implants from Dr. Bob Franco.
"I could have come home toothless, maimed," she told 10News.
Before you hire someone to place implants in your mouth
Dr Albert Lin is an oral surgeon in San Diego. He told Team 10 he sees a lot of patients who've had implants placed improperly. In the end, he says they pay a lot more to have the shoddy work repaired.
Dr. Lin recommends patients check to see if the person placing implants in their mouth is certified by the American Association of Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons at www.AAOMS.org .
To verify a dentist's license or file a complaint in California, click here
A spokesperson for the Dental Board requested anyone who may have had recent dental work done by Mansueto contact them directly at (877) 729-7789.