Public Employee Charged with Theft After Faking Cancer

May 15, 2008 ( - The Everett, Washington, Herald reports a state social worker who received $21,000 in paid leave after announcing she had malignant brain tumors has been charged with first-degree theft.

Prosecutors alleged the alleged cancer was a ploy to steal from the state Department of Social and Health Services. In addition to the paid leave, Sandra Dee Martinez received much time off from work, including extra sick days generously donated by co-workers, the Herald said.

Martinez was hired by the state as a social worker in October 2006, and five months later, she allegedly told her employer she had a brain tumor and began using paid medical leave.

Over the next several months, Martinez submitted fake letters from doctors and medical professionals – the first of which 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, according to the news report. The letter went on to explain that Martinez likely would not be able to work full-time and would battle her cancer for one to two years.

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; however, 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. Other letters indicated which positions in the department Martinez could hold.

The jig was up for Martinez when she used a neighbor’s computer and left a letter on the neighbor’s printer. The neighbor turned the letter over to authorities.

Investigators discovered that none of the doctors or medical professionals who allegedly wrote and signed the letters about Martinez’s care ever worked at the medical center noted in the letters.

Martinez has since moved out of the state and has declined to speak with investigators, the news report said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last September that U.S. Geological Survey employee Robert Joseph Thom was charged with 10 counts of wire fraud and five counts of identity theft after claiming he had cancer to take advantage of federal employees’ ability to donate leave time to others (see Employee Cries Wolf for Donated Leave Time from Others ).