BRAMAN, Okla. (KFOR) - A denture clinic that has been operating outside the law for decades has closed for good. It's the center of a fraud investigation, but the owner wants his patients to know he didn't want to abandon them.
The Kay County Denture Clinic shuttered in January. A Facebook post dated Jan. 16, thanking patients said, "This was extremely unexpected and was a decision that had to be done so quickly."
Now the Kay County Sheriff's Office is investigating possible fraud with patients left empty-handed after paying for dentures. The sheriff said one complaint out of Kansas alleged several thousand dollars was lost.
"I'm not frauding anybody," said Jesse Madrigal.
The self-proclaimed denturist said he's been targeted for his competitive pricing. Now he wants to get the word out to his patients who were left hanging.
"They're asking what am I doing? 'Where am I going to go if you quit?'" Madrigal said.
The 83-year-old said he learned to make dentures in the 60s as an apprentice in Oklahoma City. When he started the practice in Braman in the 1970s, he said he knew he was operating illegally. In Oklahoma, you can't practice dental work without a license.
"That was a misdemeanor then," Madrigal said.
It's one he was arrested for at least four times.
"We didn't mind paying a fine, going to jail for three weeks, or not three weeks, three days. And I got out Monday, went to work again," he said.
It's all worth it for work he loves, offering his patients affordable dentures.
But a month ago, the final blow came when he said he learned the misdemeanor crime was raised to a felony. That's when he decided he couldn't risk the fight.
"I don't want to go to prison just because making teeth," Madrigal said. "I haven't hurt anybody."
As for the patients he owes, he said he's at a loss. He wants to finish the work or pay them back but said he can't.
"We don't have the money. We'd like to pay if I can get in the way where I can make some money," he said.
What Madrigal said he really wants is to see the law change to allow him to do the work he's been doing for decades, and that he says his patients need.
News 4 reached out to the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry for comment Friday but has not yet heard back.