White Plains dentist-scammer violates plea deal

Dr. Joanne Baker (left) is refusing to give up her state dental license, despite her agreeing to do so when she pleaded guilty to theft and fraud charges in May.

The reversal has sent her plea deal into a tailspin and prompted a judge to keep her in jail until the matter is resolved.

Baker was scheduled for sentencing today on felony charges of third-degree grand larceny and insurance fraud. She is now due back in court on Nov. 16.

In court today, Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli ordered defense lawyer Peter Tilem and Assistant District Attorney Gwen Galef, chief of the economic crimes bureau, to write legal briefs on the consequences of backing out of a negotiated plea.

Zambelli had sent Baker to jail in September after she refused to meet with the county Department of Probati0n for a presentencing report, mandatory for all defendants upon conviction. She had been free on $10,000 bail before that.

Baker, a 51-year-old Scarsdale resident, had agreed to serve five years’ probation with 24 weekends in jail. She changed lawyers and tried withdrawing her guilty plea, but Zambelli denied her request.

Baker’s new attorney, Peter Tilem, said his client had signed a statement agreeing to give up her license, then later hired another lawyer to withdraw the paperwork. Tilem said Baker would accept suspension of her license while on probation but wants someday to practice dentistry again.

“She does not want to forfeit her license,” he said. “It’s something she worked very hard for.”

Baker was accused of running a two-year scam from her office at 1 Bryant Crescent in which she sent phony bills to Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and created phony patient records, then sent copies to the insurance firm, starting in September 2006.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, 18 patients came forward in 2008 to say Baker had billed MetLife for dental work she never provided. Baker was arrested Sept. 23, 2008.

After her arrest, prosecutors said, investigators found four additional patients who said Baker sent their insurance company, MetLife, phony bills between December 2008 and February 2009. She was accused of misleading MetLife and trying to prevent patients from reporting her. She was rearrested in April 2009.

At her court appearance today, she turned over a check made out to MetLife for $8,920 as well as a $50,000 check in what is known as a stipulation of settlement. She is being held without bail at the Westchester County jail in Valhalla.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker joined The Journal News in March 2004. She covers Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe, and was previously the state and county courts reporter in Westchester County. In prior jobs, she covered the Town of Greenburgh and Rockland County government and politics. Before coming to The Journal News, she was a municipal reporter for newspapers in New Haven, Conn. and Warren, Ohio.