Questions for David Lee

He's the Korean internist who bought up much of Koreatown and is now being named as one of the major donors of UCLA’s dentistry school whose relatives may have received preferential treatment. The Daily Bruin reported that Lee pledged $1 million in 2006 and soon after his niece was admitted into the orthodontics program. Orthodontics is considered especially competitive, according to the student paper, and the program at UCLA is regarded as one of the nation’s best. In one case, an applicant was told by a member of the admissions board that a $60,000 gift could greatly improve his chances. Dr. Thomas Bales, a Northern California orthodontist who helped lead major fundraising campaigns, has his hands all over this mess.

“I’ve been on this faculty for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said George Bernard, a professor in the School of Dentistry. “People are scared that residencies are being sold on the open market.” E-mails obtained by The Bruin through sources within the school show the orthodontics program’s high admissions standards were not always applied to the relatives of major donors. In a July 2006 e-mail to a prospective applicant, Bales, also a member of the admissions board, admitted that he accepted the son of Norman Nagel, who in 2005 donated half a million dollars to the school, despite the student’s substandard board scores: “We took Norm Nagel’s son Jeff from (the University of Pacific) this year on my call. ... We just tell him to blame memory loss when/if someone asks him his national board scores!”

Wait, there's more. Last November, Bales contacted Kent Ochiai, a graduate of USC's School of Dentistry who had just been accepted into the UCLA orthodontics program. From the Daily Bruin:

In an incident confirmed by an internal university investigation and Ochiai himself, Bales told Ochiai that some members of the UCLA admissions board were wary about accepting him and that a donation of $60,000 might secure their support. That phone call to Ochiai, who is now finishing the first year of his residency at UCLA, led to an investigation into admissions impropriety within the orthodontics program.

Bales declined to be interviewed for the Daily Bruin story (I suspect his attorney will be handling things from here on out). But his Web site provides some background. "Dr. Tom," as he referred to, has an orthodontics practice in Novato and Santa Rosa. In 2004, the UCLA Orthodontic Clinic was named the Dr. Thomas R. Bales Orthodontic Clinic at UCLA (why not just Dr. Tom's Clinic?). He is married and has three children; the oldest, "Dr. Katie," is part of the practice. "Most of all," says the Web site, "he enjoys creating beautiful smiles; he's successfully treated over 15,000 smiling faces over the past 30 years in practice."

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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