ARLINGTON — When a state social worker announced she had malignant brain tumors, she received $21,000 in paid leave, lots of time off from work, and extra sick days generously donated by co-workers pulling for her in her fight against a terrifying disease.
Turns out the tumors were only a sick ploy to steal from the state Department of Social and Health Services, prosecutors alleged Tuesday.
Sandra Dee Martinez, 40, never was diagnosed with brain cancer and instead faked letters from phony doctors to get paid sick leave, work half-days and land certain duties in the department, according to court documents.
She’s now charged with first-degree theft.
“She was fabricating a tragedy so she wouldn’t have to go to work,” Arlington Police Chief John Gray said. “She preyed on the generosity of her employer and co-workers.”
The former Mountlake Terrace woman worked out of the Smokey Point DSHS office. The Arlington police investigation turned up a scheme that went way beyond faking the sniffles to take a three-day weekend, Gray said.
Martinez was hired by the state as a social worker in October 2006, according to court records. Five months later she allegedly told her employer she had a brain tumor and began using medical leave and continued to get paid.
The first letter explained that Martinez was diagnosed with tumors and would need two to three weeks off immediately so she could strengthen her immune system and focus on her treatment, court records said. The letter went on to explain that Martinez likely wouldn’t be able to work full time and would need one to two years to battle her cancer.
“When Sandra chooses, she can work and the days she can’t she needs to stay home,” according to the letter, which appeared to be signed by an oncologist at the University of Washington Medical Center, but was a fake.
Over the next several months, Martinez submitted more fake letters, prosecutors wrote.
In June 2007, the state received a letter that indicated the tumor had caused a blood vessel in Martinez’s head to burst and she had slipped into a coma. A letter dated four days later, indicated the Martinez was able to work full time but she needed to leave early on Fridays to undergo chemotherapy, according to court documents. Another letter, dated July 30, indicated that Martinez could work as a guardian social worker but not with Child Protective Services, according to court documents.
Authorities were alerted to the scheme when Martinez’s neighbor turned over one of the doctor’s letters that investigators are convinced was forged. Martinez had come over to use the woman’s computer and left a letter on the woman’s printer, prosecutors wrote.
The letter stated that Martinez had undergone emergency surgery and slipped into a coma. The letter also said Martinez might only have six months to live. The doctor requested that Martinez be given shared leave so she could maintain her insurance and medication.
Investigators spoke with authorities at the UW Medical Center. They reported that none of the doctors or medical professionals who allegedly wrote and signed the letters that DSHS received ever worked at the center, prosecutors wrote. The letterhead used for the letters likely wasn’t authentic, prosecutors said.
Martinez has since moved out of the state, Gray said. She has declined to speak with investigators, he said.
“Services were paid out and the taxpayers didn’t get anything,” Gray said. “She worked in a department that has a compelling mission and is understaffed. Who lost out?”