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Sept. 25, 1998

Former Elma resident gets 90 days in jail, must pay $13,000 in fraud case

TUMWATER - A California woman has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to repay $13,000 after forging her dead mother's signature to illegally collect workers' compensation benefits.

A judge also sentenced Betty L. Vazquez, 61, of Chico, to 24 months of community supervision. Vazquez pleaded guilty Sept. 21 in Grays Harbor Superior Court to first-degree theft.

Vazquez lived in Elma, Wash., during the time she illegally collected the benefits.

An investigation of Vazquez began after a relative notified the state Department of Labor & Industries. The relative told investigators that Vazquez's mother had died, but that Vazquez continued to collect benefit checks. Investigators discovered that Vazquez forged the mother's name and took money from the mother's account. This occurred between Aug. 20, 1995, and Aug. 15, 1996.

The mother had been receiving benefits legally through a pension to her husband. The husband was injured in 1961. The pension then transferred to his wife following his death. His widow died in April 1996.

Vazquez then began forging her mother's signature on documents sent to the mother by Labor & Industries, which allowed the continuation of benefit payments. Vazquez then forged her mother's name on monthly checks deposited into an account of which Vazquez had access. Each check was for about $1,100.

After the investigation, Vazquez pleaded guilty July 30, 1997, in Grays Harbor Superior Court. Labor & Industries had to obtain a governor's warrant to return Vazquez from California to Washington for sentencing.

Labor & Industries manages the workers' compensation system in Washington. It provides coverage to about 163,000 employers and almost

1.4 million workers. Any person who suspects fraud in the system is urged to contact the local Labor & Industries office.

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