Business owner charged with forging signatures, submitting phony bills to state in $41K scam
PASCO — A Seattle woman faces felony theft charges in a complex scheme to overbill the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) more than $41,000 for language interpretation services in the Tri-Cities.
Arraignment for Carla C. Moreno, 33, is set for Tuesday, Dec. 8, in Franklin County Superior Court on felony charges of first-degree theft and first-degree identity theft.
Moreno also goes by the names Carla Cynthia Montes de Oca Moreno and Carla Moreno Montgomery. Charges say she billed L&I for appointments that never happened and submitted billing forms with forged signatures of health care providers and certified interpreters who had no idea what she was doing.
The charges cover incidents from 2014 to 2017 when she was operating two interpreter services, "The Language Spot" and "Language Spot," both based in Pasco. A sole proprietor, Moreno hired independent contractors to interpret at medical and physical therapy appointments for Spanish-speaking workers who had injury claims with L&I.
Certified interpreters key to injured workers' recovery
L&I requires that certified interpreters provide its interpretation services; these interpreters must meet certain standards and pass proficiency exams.
"This was a brazen scheme to steal tens of thousands of dollars that should have gone to help injured workers," said Chris Bowe, assistant director of L&I's Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division. "Besides filing phony claims, the defendant is accused of allowing unqualified people to interpret at patients' appointments. That's just not right.
"Interpreters play a crucial role in making sure doctors, service providers, and injured workers with limited-English proficiency understand each other so the worker can recover."
L&I finds billing issues, launches investigation
The Washington State Attorney General is prosecuting the case based on a two-and-a-half-year investigation by L&I and the attorney general's office. L&I staff had requested an internal investigation in 2016 after noticing discrepancies in Moreno's billing.
The inquiry included dozens of interviews with certified and uncertified interpreters and health care clinic employees, searches of bank records, and a detailed audit of Moreno's billing from a four-month period in 2015.
More than 500 fraudulent bills
The audit uncovered 558 fraudulent bills, according to charging papers. In most cases, the name and provider number of a certified interpreter were used to receive payment for services from an uncertified interpreter. On many of the billing forms, investigators found that Moreno had forged signatures of certified interpreters and health care providers.
Investigators, for instance, showed one certified interpreter 60 billing forms with his name and provider number. The interpreter said he had stopped working for Moreno at least a year before the dates on the forms, and that he never completed or signed them.
Billing for Tri-Cities appointments while in Seattle
The audit also found 89 instances in which Moreno submitted bills for medical or vocational appointments that never happened, according to charging papers. Moreno, a certified interpreter, claimed to have provided some of those appointments in the Tri-Cities when she was actually living in Seattle and attending the University of Washington.
Meanwhile, the identity theft charge against Moreno accuses her of applying for provider numbers, which certified interpreters must submit themselves for each interpreter service that hires them.
Over a two-year period starting in September 2014, Moreno applied for provider numbers for four certified interpreters without their knowledge and forged signatures on their applications. She then used their name and provider numbers to bill L&I, charging papers said. Three of the interpreters did not even work for Moreno when she applied for the numbers.
Moreno stopped billing L&I in the fall of 2017. Contacted through her attorney, she declined an L&I investigator's request for an interview, charging papers said.
Debby Abe, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043