Hanford police continue to investigate the case of Platinum Dental, a group named earlier this month in a check-fraud scheme that left several businesses around town with a significant hole in their pockets.
Police investigators say people claiming to be Platinum Dental employees are trying to cash checks bearing the company logo at local retailers. When retailers go to the bank for reimbursement, they are told that the checks are issued from a nonexistent or bad account.
One victim, Harrod's Market on East Sixth Street, lost more than $1,000 to the bad checks, money that has not been returned since the business was hit in early November. Police say so far four businesses have been taken for about $4,000 and they predict there may be other victims out there.
But what started out as a simple case of suspected fraud has since become "very weird," according to Lt. Pat Crowe.
Platinum Dental's official Web site describes the group as an "affordable full-service cosmetic dentistry office." It goes on to say they are a member of "the Better Business Bureau, the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association and the Hanford Chamber of Commerce."
However, not one of these organizations contacted by The Sentinel claimed any knowledge of the group.
"I've never even heard of them," Chamber of Commerce CEO Hope-Williams Morikawa said earlier this month.
Officials with the California Dental Association said that while their organization normally keeps track of dentists by name, they have never had any registered dentists affiliated with a Platinum Dental company in Hanford.
The city Finance Department says there are no businesses with the name "Platinum Dental" licensed to operate in Hanford.
Only one company is registered with the California Secretary of State's Web site to operate under the name Platinum Dental, but it's based out of San Marcos. Officials there said they have no affiliation with Hanford's Platinum Dental.
Sentinel columnist and Bakersfield attorney Dennis Beaver was asked to look into Platinum Dental and concluded that the group "does not appear to be run as a legitimate business."
Beaver said he called the company to ask the name of their practicing dentist, only to be immediately disconnected. A return call was answered by a message saying the number was no longer in service.
"I would tell anybody to be cautious about stepping in there," Beaver said. "Their refusal to answer Sentinel phone calls combined with their peculiar telephone behavior raises a huge red flag to me. We cannot establish their legitimacy with the dental board and, combined with the bad check issue, we have every reason… to be cautious."
A Kings County resident who wished to remain anonymous told The Sentinel that her teeth were cleaned at the company's 425 W. Seventh St. office by a dentist who "only drives down to Hanford on Wednesdays." She said she didn't recall the dentist's name, but that he was based in Fresno.
A Sentinel reporter visited the company's office on several occasions throughout the month of December and consistently found the location dark, with only a taped paper sign bearing the group's logo on the door.
A representative of Platinum Dental who did not identify herself answered "no comment" when asked about the company's possible involvement in check fraud and did not answer repeated return phone calls.
The group could potentially face such charges as the unauthorized practice of medicine, violation of the business and professions code and fraud, according to Beaver.