LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — They drive nice cars and live in expensive homes, but Southland doctors are nevertheless defaulting on student loans and sticking taxpayers with the bill, CBS2's David Goldstein reports.
Dentist Robert Hansen drives a Porsche. His Pasadena home, with a pool and backyard, is valued at $2.5 million.
Still, he's one of 846 medical professionals nationwide who owe more than $105 million to the government for their student loans.
Forty-three percent of those, about 362 medical professionals, are in California. Together, they owe more than $35 million.
They're all doctors, chiropractors, dentists who took out loans under the federal Health Education Assistance program from 1978 to 1998.
They borrowed a maximum of $80,000 from private institutions. But with interest, many owe two or three times as much after defaulting.
Since the loans were guaranteed by the federal government, taxpayers had to pay it off.
Goldstein approached Dr. Hansen about his loans during the investigation. He was reluctant to talk.
"You still owe $300,000," Goldstein approached him stating, to which Hansen replied: "You're on private property."
Roya Dardashti, identified in public records as a plastic surgeon and president of Diamond Surgery Center in Encino, was sued after defaulting on her student loan. A view from SKY2 shows the pool in the backyard of the Encino home she owns, valued at $1.5 million. CBS2 also saw her driving a Range Rover.
According to the most recent records from the U.S. Department of Education, released in September 2014, she owed more than $101,000.
When asked about the loans, Dr. Dardashti replied: "I'm actually paying it off right now."
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's office disputes that, however. A spokesperson wrote that "efforts continue to collect the money" 22 years after Dr. Dardashti was put through medical school with federally-backed loans.
She says she's been through some tough times.
"Can you tell me why you defaulted on the loan to begin with? Why should taxpayers have to pay?" asked Goldstein.
"Oh my gosh, taxpayers," she replied.
CBS2 first found Dr. Hansen in 2008. He had a Mercedes back then when we talked with him about his defaulted student loan. At the time he promised to pay it back.
"I have payment plans for and I honor my payment plans," he said.
In 2008, Dr. Hansen owed more than $200,000. In 2014, the latest records show with interest the debt had ballooned to more than $300,000.
It's the job of the U.S. Attorney's Office to try and recover that taxpayer money. But when we asked them what they're doing about trying to get Dr. Hansen's $300,000, a spokesman stated: "Lawyers have made all kinds of efforts to find Hansen and locate any assets, but these efforts have been unsuccessful for the past several years."
But CBS2 found him at his dental office in this building in Pasadena, no problem. This time, he wasn't interested in talking.
Tom Schatz, with Citizens Against Government Waste, said from the CBS Washington bureau prosecutors should take action.
"Some of these people should be thrown in jail to be honest," Schatz said. "In this case, the Hippocratic Oath doesn't seem to apply. They may not be doing any harm to patients but they are certainly harming the taxpayers."
And to college students at California State Los Angeles, like Vicki Honda, it's frustrating.
"I'm working full-time. I'm going to school full-time, and I am still here paying for my loans so I don't think it's fair at all," Honda said.
But to these doctors, and hundreds more, the treatment for paying back their loans is to let the taxpayers do it.
After CBS2 found Dr. Hansen for this report, the feds filed a motion on Friday to garnish his wages.
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