Arlington police uncover alleged cancer scam, arrest fake police officer

ARLINGTON A couple of alleged scam artists have inspired local law enforcement agents to warn people to be more cautious about accepting such stories in the future.

An Arlington police investigation yielded evidence that Sandra Dee Martinez had faked cancer to receive more than $21,000 in paid leave, time off from work and sick days from her employers and coworkers at the Smokey Point office of the Department of Social and Health Services.

In addition, Arlington police recently arrested Idaho resident Ronald Johnson for impersonating a Washington State Patrol employee to obtain prescription medication from a Smokey Point pharmacy.

Arlington Police Chief John Gray lamented both deceptions. He described Martinez's claims as harmful to citizens as a whole.

"You have an employer that's trying to fulfill a mission," Gray said. "It hires Martinez in October of 2006, and in February of 2007, she appears to undergo a seizure. From that point forward, she basically never comes back to work. She proceeds to fabricate letters from doctors, saying that she's terminally ill with brain cancer. When she exhausts her sick leave, oth employees generously donate their own."

Between Feb. 12 and Aug. 4, 2007, Martinez submitted at least 10 letters purportedly signed by members of the University of Washington Medical Center, claiming that Martinez was receiving radiation therapy, diagnosed as depressed, and rendered comatose due to burst blood vessels in her brain. The letters also claimed that Martinez had tumors and cancer in her spinal chord.

According to Laura Hightower at the University of Washington, none of the doctors or other medical professionals whose signatures appear on the UW Medical Center letterhead are on records as ever having worked at the UW Medical Center. Furthermore, the letterhead on the documents that purport to be from the UW Medical Center does not appear to be authentic UW Medical Center letterhead.

Martinez's neighbor, Peggy Townsell, provided DSHS with another letter, that Townsell found on her computer after letting Martinez borrow it. The forged letter was dated June 24, 2007, claimed to be from the UW Medical Center, and stated, "Ms. Martinez may only have six months to live. As the lead doctor I'm requesting that she receive shared leave until her disability. Ms. Martinez needs to maintain her insurance, medication and basic needs. Thank you for your time and patience."

Gray sees several ways in which Martinez has cost the community.

"Her coworkers' generosity was exploited and they lost leave," Gray said. "The taxpayers paid for services, for endangered children and vulnerable adults, that they never got. Every time she created one of these letters, Martinez got something for nothing. These social services are already being eroded away from lack of revenue. The degree to which she's selfishly exploited others is unspeakable."

Gray refused to condemn DSHS for not questioning the documents they received from Martinez, since he believes they had no reason to doubt them until Townsell's tip. He was less charitable to merchants who accepted the claims made by Johnson, who is not an employee of the Washington State Patrol.

"You can't just take it for granted," Gray said. "If they'd looked closely at his documents, any reasonable person would have realized they weren't authentic. In our culture, we're in such a hurry, but we need to slow down and study these documents. That's how the system works."

Johnson entered the Rite-Aid Pharmacy on Smokey Point Boulevard Oct. 29, 2007 with a German Shepherd dog, and both he and the dog were wearing Washington State Patrol apparel. He received an Oxycontin prescription without paying for it and subsequent investigations revealed that he'd asked for Oxycontin from doctors and pharmacies in not only Washington state, but also Idaho, Montana and Kentucky. He was finally arrested on May 6 of this year, after being spotted in Smokey Point again.

"We work so hard at our mission, to earn the public's trust in times of tragedy," Gray said. "They have to know that we'll be there, and that we'll be honest, thorough and objective. This person was feeding his drug addiction on the reputation earned by heroes."

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