JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A day after Dr. Howard S. Schneider pleaded not guilty to the 12 charges against him, a judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether the charges against the embattled dentist should be dismissed.
Schneider, 78, is charged with 11 counts of Medicaid fraud and one count of scheme to defraud.
Schneider's attorney submitted the motion to dismiss in court Monday and Judge Angela Cox wanted prosecutors to have a chance to review it. Both sides will have even more time to formulate their arguments on the motion after Cox passed the decision until a March 9 hearing.
She gave the prosecution and defense until Feb. 23 to get all the details together to make their case.
The defense motion reads, “The allegations of the information are so vague and indefinite that the defendant is not able to know and understand the offenses with which he is charged (and) is not able to prepare his defense properly.”
Schneider’s lawyer argued Tuesday that the charges are too vague and it’s impossible to defend them because the Attorney General’s office was not specific enough in detailing how Schneider committed Medicaid fraud.
Schneider’s lawyer even cited a clerical error that shows Schneider was charged with a crime that doesn’t exist.
A local attorney not affiliated with the case said it’s critical for the Attorney General’s office to get specific to make sure the charges stick.
“Remember, it’s not just the judge but ultimately it has to be the jury that has to ascertain and listen to all the facts and make sure the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Rhonda Peoples-Waters said. “So what the defense is saying is that for me to be able to properly mount a defense, I need to know who the exact victims are, the timing of the victims, the allegations that pertain to each victim, time and date.”
Schneider remains free on $110,000 bond and is now living in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
Schneider’s lawyers had pushed to keep him from having to appear in court because of the intense media scrutiny on his case. That attempt was unsuccessful. Cox compelled Schneider to appear in court Monday for his arraignment.
However, he will not be required to appear at any future pretrial hearings and was not present Tuesday.
The state claims the pediatric dentist billed Medicaid hundreds of thousands of dollars for procedures he didn’t actually perform. Parents claim that the pediatric dentist abused children.
Included in the state's evidence gathered for the fraud case are nearly a dozen similar accounts from parents telling investigators what they and their kids experienced in Schneider’s office:
That man doctor threw me."
"He choked me and pulled my teeth."
"They’re lying to you"
The Office of the Attorney General Medicaid Fraud Control Unit interviewed them as a part of its investigation of the dentist. Parents of Schneider's patients recounted hearing screams, children injured during procedures, and children getting procedures the parents didn't even know about.
Parents reported their children's lips were bruised, their kids were very scared, and one patient was found facedown on the floor.
One parent told investigators they took their child to Schneider's office for a procedure they were told would only take 30 minutes. After three hours, they went to the window three times, and an assistant finally told them there was an incident.
When the parent was finally able to see the child, the child was hyperventilating and had marks, scratches and blood all over.
According to one document, Schneider’s assistant told the person the child was on a papoose board and, “We stepped out, came back and (he/she) was face first on the floor.”
But the child had a different story, telling investigators: “They’re lying to you. That man doctor threw me and that lady picked me up when I was on the board, and she was laughing at me and sat on me and choked me.”
The parent told investigators, “I saw that my baby was missing all (his/her) teeth.”
The documents also include what experts told investigators about Schneider, including:
- His consent form is too general, and he should get consent from parents before performing additional procedures.
- His charts had poor progress notes.
- The quality of work performed on the patients was low and below standards of care.
- The type and amount of sedation that Schneider was using on the children was very mild and would not be strong enough for a child 3 years or older.
One dentist who treated patients after they had seen Schneider told investigators, "It was like if Dr. Schneider had done crowns, the crown was gone. If Schneider had done a filling, the filling was gone."
"Now the defense gets a chance to really see what the state has. They have shown their cards. These are their cards, and now the defense will have an opportunity to play those cards and see what they can do and how they can defend Dr. Schneider," said Gene Nichols, an attorney not affiliated with this case.
Schneider is also facing civil lawsuits from former patients.