A dentist has been charged with doctoring medical notes to rip off $168,000 of taxpayers' money.
The investigation involves claims for emergency treatment of children and teenagers - including extraction of teeth - which the Ministry of Health says did not occur.
Ministry investigators are now auditing at least 20 other dentists after the alleged frauds by Sanjay Govind Sathe were discovered.
The Auckland dental surgeon appeared in the Manukau District Court last week to face 49 criminal charges of false accounting and dishonest use of a document.
Court documents show the total amount of involved is $168,030.
Sathe is alleged to have altered his clinical notes between 2007 and last year to falsely claim taxpayer-funded payments for patients aged under 18.
He was contracted to the Counties Manukau District Health Board to provide after-hours emergency treatment for children and teenagers.
The free scheme contracts 734 dental providers throughout New Zealand. They treated about 188,000 adolescents last year at a cost of $42 million.
Under the agreement, the 59-year-old would provide treatment, then submit invoices to claim tax-funded payments.
The Herald has been told Sathe submitted hundreds of "emergency consultation" claims each year for working after 5pm - the most of any dentist in the country.
He also made claims for a large number of tooth extractions under anaesthetic.
A Ministry of Health audit in 2009 did not detect the alleged fraud.
But the alarm was raised last year when a former patient of Sathe was treated by a new dentist who noticed the number of teeth extracted was fewer than the number stated in the clinical notes.
Ministry of Health investigators then contacted at least 100 parents whose children's clinical notes showed five or more tooth extractions. Many denied taking their children to Sathe for emergency consultations after working hours, or having teeth removed.
Some of the children were allegedly travelling overseas or no longer living in Auckland at the time of the claimed treatment.
Hundreds of treatment reports allegedly recorded false consultation times or details.
Sathe has since sold his practice in Howick. He will reappear in the Manukau District Court next month in what is only the third case of its kind in New Zealand.
In 1998, a dentist was convicted of a $155,000 fraud and in 2001, another admitted a $40,000 fraud.
The dental subsidy benefit relies largely on honesty, and the Herald understands the charges against Sathe have prompted district health boards to ask the Ministry of Health to audit at least 20 other dentists.
Sanjay Govind Sathe
* 19 charges of dishonest use of a document.
* 30 charges of false accounting.
* 4 years of alleged offending.
* $168,030 of alleged fraud.