CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Dentist Alex Gutierrez faced a judge in an orange prison uniform Monday morning, and the abrupt closing of his practice came up during the brief probation violation hearing.
Gutierrez, 47, was taken into custody 11 days ago for allegedly violating three conditions of his probation for a reckless driving conviction that was pleaded down last year from a DUI charge.
The dentist appeared Monday in Dorothy Vaccaro’s courtroom through a video feed from the Pinellas County jail, asking to be released to fulfull the conditions of his probation.
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A medical issue was blamed for Gutierrez missing a January probation appointment. A second condition violation alleged Gutierrez “did not complete or provide proof of enrollment” in a DUI course.
His attorney Jason Bard told the court his client unknowingly completed the wrong class, but he said he was now registered for the correct one.
The grainy video of Gutierrez on the courtroom monitor was the first time many of his patients had the opportunity to see him in months.
Paul Riffel, one of many who claim they’re out time and money from abandoned treatments, said Gutierrez stopped taking his calls late last year.
“And I was saying I need to talk to him. He’s out? I need to talk to him,” Riffel said, recalling several phone calls to Gutierrez Orthodontics. “He’s out sick. I need to talk to him and I kept going, I need to talk. We need to talk this out.”
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During the hearing, prosecutor Maria Haralambis argued against Gutierrez’s excuse that a medical issue forced him to miss his January probation appointment.
“He had ample time to show proof to probation that there was a medical issue that he had,” Haralambis.
Judge Vacarro went with the state’s recommendation to keep Gutierrez 30 days, citing the news first reported by 8 On Your Side that the defendant’s patients accused him of deserting them.
“I think his whereabouts being unknown, closing shop being one of the things that occurred, leaving people high and dry,” Vacarro said. “That’s the part that concerns me.”
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With credit for time served, Gutierrez will be released in 19 days.
Bard said he could not comment on Gutierrez case. Gutierrez did not respond to multiple requests for comment that were sent prior to his incarceration.
Riffel and other patients have decided to move on to other providers but they still want answers.
“Why did you do it? Why did you abandon us in the middle of our treatment?” Riffel asked. “What’s his response going to be to us? What can he say?”
Gutierrez has a clean record with the Department of Health, but several patients have said they plan on filing complaints about their stalled and canceled treatments.