Dental Damnation 

How does a nearly blind dentist who is illegally operating out of his Berkeley home get official referrals from the state's largest dental insurer?

He has described himself as "nearly blind." He is illegally operating a dental office out of his Berkeley home, where a homeless man with no teeth lives in his backyard. An ex-patient says the dentist's wife once walked through the waiting room naked. And the state dental board cited him last month for having an unsafe and unsanitary office. Meet Donald P. DeBerry, a wacky septuagenarian DDS to whom patients are referred by the state's largest dental health carrier, Delta Dental.

Dr. Don has been in the teeth biz for more than forty years. He used to bill himself in his old newsletter, Positive Dental Attitude, as the "dentist with a humorous touch," and tested bad jokes for his open-mike comedy routine on his patients. For many years, he kept shop in the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Berkeley. But by 1989, he couldn't afford the soaring rent anymore so he tried to reopen his practice inside his two-story home on Parker Street. The zoning board refused to give him a permit after several neighbors argued the business would generate unwanted medical waste and traffic, but DeBerry eventually went ahead anyway.

For a decade or so, it appears there were no problems at the illegal home office. Then Delta Dental referred Aleida Robinson, who needed new dentures, to Dr. Don. She lived just a few blocks away with her husband Tom, a retired military man whose own dad was a dentist. The doc's place struck the new patient and her hubby as odd. The yard was covered with huge weeds, Aleida says, and inside, the spit-sink had no running water. Tom recalls that at least once while he waited for Aleida in the home-clinic, DeBerry's wife and business partner, Charlotte Smith, walked by wearing nary a stitch.

In spite of all this weirdness, Ms. Robinson kept coming back for more than a year as the dentist tried to get the right fit for her prosthetics. He never did, she says. (DeBerry had told the Zoning Board years earlier that his poor eyesight, caused by congenital cataracts, slowed down his work.) The false teeth he made caused her so much pain that she could barely chew even soft veggies. Robinson then went to another dentist who, she says, fitted her with proper choppers in only three appointments.

DeBerry, meanwhile, sued his patient and her husband in small-claims court last year for $983 in unpaid dental bills. The Robinsons countersued for the alleged damage DeBerry caused Aleida's mouth. At the court hearing, the Robinsons discovered that the dentist and his wife had submitted a strange letter to the judge in which they demanded $5 billion (on top of the $983) and called Tom a litigious "terrorist" who sued Alta Bates over an overpriced enema (which he denies). "We read it and couldn't believe it," Aleida recalls. The judge couldn't either, and ordered the dentist to pay the Robinsons $3,495.

So how does a guy like Dr. Don get on the referral list for Delta Dental? Delta D spokesguy Jeff Album says dentists must agree to random office inspections -- which may or may not actually happen -- and must show they have a valid license to practice. That doesn't mean they need to have a spotless record, although Dr. Don did. Until last month, that is, when an inspector from the dental board showed up. The dental cop cited DeBerry for having an unsanitary office and for not complying with sterilization requirements and fined him $1,500. And since the board issues only about forty citations a year in a state with 32,000 licensed dentists, it musta been pretty rank.

A couple of weeks later, DeBerry's office began faxing out voluminous and almost illegible hand-scribbled "press releases." The announcements accused DeBerry's next-door neighbors of filing a false complaint with the dental board in alleged retaliation for DeBerry and Smith's letting a toothless, homeless man stay in their backyard. Oh, for this DeBerry demanded a few billion dollars, too. The neighbors, by the way, say they most definitely weren't happy about the homeless dude, who sometimes invited his friends over, with no apparent place to go to the bathroom. But they say they didn't complain to the dental board, and add that they prefer to steer clear of the doc and his wife.

The faxed missives also claimed DeBerry and his wife were victims of a "21st-Century Bonnie and Clyde" -- i.e., the Robinsons -- who deserved life-sentences at San Quentin where they could both "have all their dental work done for free and need never to terrorize anyone as they did Dr. DeBerry."

When Feeder called DeBerry, he meekly handed over the phone to his wife, Charlotte, the office manager who boasts a Ph.D in abnormal psychology. "He's very, very shy," she explained. "It's overwhelmed him." She insisted DeBerry had all the permits to run his business from their house, but when Feeder asked if she could send us a copy of the permits, she replied, "That's not the real problem." The real problem, she revealed, was the drug dealers who run the city government.

Feeders will crack a big smile when they hear DeBerry's latest joke: He is still licensed and in the good graces of the dental board after paying his $1,500 fine and showing proof that he fixed up his office. And yep, that means he is still in the Delta Dental network too.

Brush and floss regularly, Feeders, brush and floss regularly.

Can Gotti Beat the Rap?

This week, rap-biz strongman Irv Gotti has a court date in Oakland in which his lawyer will try to get a drug-possession charge against the Murder Inc. exec thrown out. In August, Gotti -- real name Irving Lorenzo -- got busted at the Oakland Arena during the R. Kelly concert for allegedly trying to smuggle in an Ecstasy tab. Police also confiscated a few Viagra pills from the 33-year-old ladykillah.

The arresting metal-detector cop, Officer Randy Brandwood, detained Gotti after he most unwisely placed the pills in a plastic basket along with his wallet. In his arrest report, Brandwood claimed he recognized one of the pills as E.

Gotti's consigliere, Dennis Roberts, will be making a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that Brandwood couldn't have known that the white pill was Ecstasy, which comes in many different forms. Thus, if he didn't really know, the cops didn't have probable cause to make the arrest. "It's horseshit for anyone to say, 'I know Ecstasy when I see it,'" Roberts reasons. Don't know about that, counselor. Brandwood used to be a narcotics officer. And lab testing apparently confirmed his diagnosis.

If Gotti's motion to suppress fails, the kingpin could just end up doing what normal folks do and enter a drug diversion program, which would require occasional drug tests. Maybe R. Kelly will front him some urine samples.

He's a Goner

Bottom Feeder will be taking some time off for the holidays, during which he plans to drink and operate heavy machinery. But he'll be back soon. In the meantime, remember, Feeders: Only 365 shopping days left till next Christmas.


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