By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — An unlicensed dentist who treated as many as 30 patients a day was shut down this week after local and federal detectives stumbled upon her illegal “makeshift dental office” during a drug investigation.
Patients sat in lawn chairs set up in a waiting room prior to their appointments, according to a police report.
Criminal charges are now being sought against Maira Josefina Villanueva, 43, who claimed to be a doctor in her native country, the Dominican Republic. She told police she recently opened the office at 273 Prospect St. because she has “an infant child and needs money,” according to a report by Officer William Olivieri.
Villanueva said “she works on people with minor toothaches, fixing cavities, tightening braces, changing crowns and so forth,” Olivieri wrote. She said she did not pull teeth “due to not being outfitted for such things,” according to his report.
“She also had a place on Broadway last year where she did the same thing. From speaking with her it was clear that she was running a dental office where she was performing dentistry services for monetary gains,” Olivieri wrote.
She said she became a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic in 1997 and worked for the government there for several years. She came to the United States in 2001 but never obtained proper dental licensing here afterwards.
“She states due to her knowing limited English it has hurt her in completing her dentistry license here,” Olivieri wrote.
Police were not able to substantiate that Villanueva was a doctor in the Dominican Republic, Police Chief John Romero said.
Police discovered the bogus dental practice on Monday while working on an unrelated narcotics investigation. Lawrence Detective Robert LeFebre, who was working with a Drug Enforcement Agency task force, suspected 273 Prospect St. was a possible drug stash house and investigated.
Detectives in turn, alerted city inspectional services of Villanueva’s bogus dental office.
Just before 3 p.m., Michael Hanson and Gregg Arvanitis from the city’s inspectional services department shut down the office.
Inside, police found a dental chair “you would see in any dental office,” Olivieri wrote. Cabinets contained medical supplies and there was a bench area with dental tools.
“There was what looked like a sanitation container that heated up the tools,” he wrote. A box contained needles in bags and other medical products. The waiting room contained five lawn chairs and two dinner table chairs. Patient contact books and a dental receipt book were also seized as evidence.
Olivieri took 14 photos as evidence for detectives to use in the case.
Attempts to reach Villanueva for comment yesterday were unsuccessful. Her phone was disconnected.
She was issued a summons yesterday for a public health crime, posing as a dentist, which is punishable by six months in jail and/or a fine of $1,000. Villanueva, because she was issued a summons, is entitled to a hearing before a district clerk magistrate who will determine if enough evidence exists for her to be arraigned on a criminal charge.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.