Former business owner who submitted phony bills for interpretation services repays L&I $43,000
PASCO — A Seattle woman accused of forging signatures and stealing money by billing the state for appointments that never happened pleaded guilty Wednesday.
Carla C. Moreno also repaid the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) $43,296 in full for overbilling the department for interpreter services in the Tri-Cities.
Moreno pleaded guilty to third-degree theft, a gross misdemeanor, in Franklin County Superior Court. Repaying L&I was part of her sentence.
Judge Samuel P. Swanberg ordered Moreno to serve more than 30 days in confinement, including 10 days in jail and 20 days through electronic home monitoring. She also must serve probation for two years; she must break no laws during that time or could face additional criminal penalties in connection with this case.
Moreno, 33, is also known as Carla Cynthia Montes De Oca Moreno and Carla Moreno Montgomery. She now lives in Seattle and works as a real estate broker and investor.
Moreno committed the theft while operating The Language Spot and Language Spot, both based in Pasco, from 2009 to 2017.
The Washington State Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case based on a two-and-a-half-year investigation by its office and L&I.
Variety of methods to overbill
Moreno, a sole proprietor, hired independent contractors to interpret at medical and physical therapy appointments for Spanish-speaking workers who had workplace injury claims with L&I.
Investigators found she used a variety of methods to overbill L&I for the services, including billing for non-existent appointments, double-billing for actual appointments, using names and provider numbers of interpreters who worked for her in the past, and submitting billing forms with forged signatures of health care providers and certified interpreters.
For instance, Moreno claimed to have provided interpreter services in the Tri-Cities for some bills when she was actually living in Seattle and attending the University of Washington.
In other cases, investigators found Moreno submitted 60 billing forms with the name and provider number of a certified interpreter who no longer worked for her. The certified interpreter and five other individuals told L&I they were unaware Moreno had been using their names and provider numbers to bill for services.
“This was a calculated and deceitful attempt to steal thousands of dollars from the workers’ compensation system,” said Celeste Monahan, acting assistant director of L&I’s Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards division. “That’s money that employers and employees pay to help injured workers heal and return to work.
“We stopped this fraud and we can now put this stolen money back into the workers’ comp fund.”
Moreno admitted to stealing money from L&I over four months in 2015. However, her restitution to the department included $7,471 she improperly received by using the identities of three certified interpreters from 2015 to 2017.
At Wednesday’s hearing, two of the interpreters whose name and provider numbers were used without their knowledge described how upset they were by Moreno’s actions. “It really bothers me that she used my information ... without my consent,” said Ramon Bueno.
L&I discovered billing problems
L&I staff requested the criminal investigation in 2016 after discovering discrepancies in Moreno’s billing.
An L&I auditor initially examined the business’s billing paperwork for all of 2015. The auditor found so many billing irregularities that she narrowed the scope of a detailed audit to a four-month period in 2015 that became the basis of the criminal case, according to charging papers.
In total, the audit uncovered 558 fraudulent bills, including 89 instances in which Moreno submitted bills for appointments that never occurred.
Moreno stopped billing L&I in the fall of 2017 while the investigation was ongoing. She no longer provides interpreter services for L&I.
Debby Abe, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-6043