Brain-tumor con artist gets jail time

A former state social worker who faked a life-threatening disease to steal time and money apologized Tuesday before she was sentenced to three months in jail.

Sandra Martinez marked her 41st birthday by asking forgiveness. In 2007, the former employee at the State Department of Social and Health Services office in Smokey Point scammed $21,000 worth of paid leave. She lied about having brain tumors and presenting faked letters from phony doctors.

Besides ripping off the state, Martinez also took advantage of coworkers who donated their extra sick days to help her, according to court papers.

“What I did then was wrong. It was a lie,” Martinez said in Snohomish County Superior Court. “I take responsibility and I’m so sorry.”

The Texas woman, who previously had lived in Mountlake Terrace, on June 25 pleaded guilty to first-degree theft. Under the plea agreement, she promised to repay the $21,000.

The 90-day sentence imposed by Judge Ronald Castleberry was the maximum under state guidelines for a first-time felon.

Martinez not only hurt DSHS and the people the agency serves, but her conduct also likely will make it more difficult for others who may need help from coworkers and friends, Castleberry said.

The woman’s conduct may make people more cynical, the judge said, adding Martinez should consider making amends by trying to do good for others without being asked.

Martinez joined DSHS as a social worker in 2006. About five months later, she said doctors had found tumors in her brain. She submitted letters that appeared to come from doctors suggesting she needed time off to fight for her life. One letter sent to her bosses reported she’d slipped into a coma.

Prosecutors believe Martinez never had brain cancer and instead faked letters from phony doctors to get paid sick leave, to work half-days and to land certain duties in the department.

Authorities learned of the scam when her neighbor turned over a letter that appeared to come from a doctor, but investigators believed was forged. Martinez had left it on the woman’s printer after asking to use the woman’s computer, according to court papers.

Investigators discovered that none of the doctors who supposedly wrote letters detailing Martinez’s problems had ever worked at the medical center where she claimed to be receiving treatment.

She was living in Texas when she was charged in mid May. She returned to Washington to face the charges and has been jailed since.

Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or north@heraldnet.com.

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