Patients still ask for the dentist they knew as Dr. Avila.
He pulled teeth in Largo, fitted dentures in Brandon and performed root canals in Tampa.
"He was really proficient," said Joseph Robbio, manager of Oceanside Dental in Tampa.
Janice Dunn and her husband, Donald Rupert, who saw him at Advanced Dental Care in Largo were pleased with his "skill at keeping pain to a minimum."
The man who worked on their teeth might still be practicing today, if a Largo cop hadn't stopped him for doing 69 in a 55 zone.
• • •
Dr. Roberto Avila has been licensed in Florida for more than 20 years, but he lives and works mostly in Mexico. He never worked for Advanced Dental Care or Oceanside Dental.
A few times a year, he came to work with his longtime friend, Dr. Ernest Rillman, who grew up in Mexico and has an office in Largo.
About four years ago, authorities say, Avila met a man named Alejandro Carlos de la Pena Olvera.
Olvera had told Rillman he was a lab technician and a dentist in Mexico. He said he wanted to learn more about dental implant surgery.
"He seemed like a nice guy," said Rillman.
Avila, 52, agreed to let Olvera shadow him a couple of times, Rillman said.
That's when Rillman thinks Olvera, 49, may have gotten his hands on Avila's credentials.
Avila felt betrayed when he found out what Olvera had done, Rillman said.
"(Avila) hasn't come back here in almost two years," he said.
Shortly after shadowing Avila, Olvera began working at several dental clinics using Avila's name. He continued to do so for more than a year.
Besides Oceanside Dental in Tampa and Advanced Dental Care in Largo, he worked at Advanced Dental Care locations in Brandon and Tampa, according to a Department of Health investigation.
He provided all of the right documents: ID, a dental license, malpractice insurance, a Drug Enforcement Administration license to prescribe controlled substances, department records show.
Avila, who could not be reached for comment in Mexico, told authorities he never let Olvera use his name, medical license or any of his identification.
It's not clear how many patients Olvera saw as Avila or at how many other clinics he may have worked.
• • •
In early 2007, Dunn and Rupert met Olvera at Advanced Dental Care in Tri-City Plaza.
They both found the man who called himself Dr. Avila likable.
"He was a happy-go-lucky fellow," said Dunn, 70, who lives in Largo.
Olvera examined them and said they both needed dentures. Dunn was told she needed six teeth pulled, Rupert 12.
They shelled out more than $2,000 up front.
They returned a few weeks later to have their teeth pulled in preparation for dentures.
The dentist seemed to know how to administer Novocaine, and the couple didn't suffer much during the extractions, Dunn said.
But Olvera had a particularly hard time pulling one of Rupert's teeth, Rupert said. At one point, he straddled Rupert in the dental chair, pushed his knee against Rupert's lap for leverage and yanked with all of his might, said Rupert, 72.
It was traumatic. And Rupert bled for hours. But he and his wife thought the experience was horrible because it was supposed to be.
The phony dentist also prescribed Vicodin, which might have been problematic with Rupert's epilepsy medicine, Dunn said.
What followed were months of slipping and broken dentures. Dunn had to keep hers together with Super Glue. Dunn developed blisters on the roof of her mouth. X-rays later revealed that a couple of Dunn's lower teeth might not have required extraction at all. And dental exams showed that each had cavities and gum problems that should have been treated before any of their teeth were pulled.
"Nobody should have to go through what we went through," Dunn said.
• • •
About a year later, Olvera was pulled over by a Largo cop for speeding in his black Volvo.
It was just before 11 a.m. on Feb. 12, 2008. Olvera gave the Largo police officer a Texas license with the name Roberto Avila on it. When the officer ran the license number, it came back with the name of another man.
The officer requested another form of ID. Olvera handed him what appeared to be a computerized copy of a Social Security card for Roberto Avila. Olvera also provided a business card for Oceanside Dental.
The officer traced the Social Security number and found that Avila had a Florida license. But Avila's picture on the license didn't match the face of the man in the car.
The officer called Oceanside Dental, which confirmed that a Dr. Avila did work there.
Olvera then gave the officer a Mexican passport and ID with the name Alejandro Carlos de la Pena Olvera. He also provided a visa that said "U.S. employment not authorized."
Olvera was arrested on charges of felony possession and use of a Social Security card, felony possession of an altered driver's license and a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of a police officer by disguise.
He was held in lieu of $13,000 bail. Olvera called Robbio, the manager of Oceanside Dental. He said he was arrested and it was a big mistake. Robbio said he posted bail for Olvera, who insisted he really was Avila.
Olvera told him he was going to the Mexican embassy to straighten things out. Olvera later called Robbio to say the embassy told him he had to leave the country because his papers weren't in order. Olvera never showed up for court.
About two weeks after the arrest, the Department of Health launched an investigation and found that Olvera falsely represented himself as a dentist in Tampa, Brandon and Largo. In September 2008, Olvera was charged in Hillsborough with one count of fraudulent use of personal information and nine counts of unlicensed practice of a health care profession. There are still active warrants for his arrest for these and the Largo charges.
Two months ago, Rupert and Dunn filed suit against Advanced Dental Care, its management company and Olvera.
Robbio said he heard Olvera is in Mexico. Olvera knows a "whole bunch of people," Robbio said, and someone told him Olvera's ex-wife had died and that he's taking care of his kids there.
He still finds it hard to believe that Olvera isn't Avila.
Until the courts decide, Robbio said: "As far as I'm concerned, he's still Roberto Avila."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.