Another Ontario Serial Embezzler

Oshawa’s Jean Hakim is at it again. She was previously nailed in 2016 for embezzling from several practices (see our story HERE.)

And now there are fresh accusations from a different practice for theft that allegedly took place from 2019-2020 in a different practice. The following is from the Toronto Sun newspaper:

A 43-year-old Oshawa woman is accused of defrauding a dental clinic where she worked out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Durham Regional Police say officers with the financial crimes unit investigated the suspected misappropriation of funds at the clinic, which allegedly spanned from January 2019 until March 2020.

“Following an audit at My Dentist My Doctor clinic, investigators received reports of an office manager who was (allegedly) taking funds that had been received from customers for her own personal benefit,” Const. Crystal Fitzgerald said Wednesday in a statement outlining the accusations.

The clinic’s losses are believed to be about $40,000.

Jean Hakim, aka Jean Persaud, is charged with fraud over $5,000, theft over $5,000, possession of property obtained by crime over $5,000, and failure to comply with a probation order.

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This story is a good reminder of the need to do proper background investigation (including a criminal records check) before hiring. Check out our webinar on forensic hiring for some good tips.

Forensic Hiring Webinar

The “Policy Vacuum”

Our CEO once said that embezzlers will happily fill gaps in a practice’s policies to their advantage.  So what are these policies, and how do embezzlers exploit them?

We hear concerns expressed by many dentists who are aware that their policies are underdeveloped and don’t know how to fix the problem.

Let’s collectively take a closer look at policies needed in a dental practice and how they can protect you.

Organizations have policies for a simple reason; they want people to be treated consistently and predictably.  Airlines want their flights to stay on schedule, and Walmart wants two people in the checkout line with the same item to pay the same amount. 

Often policies target how customers are treated, but sometimes the focus is ensuring that employees are handled fairly and consistently. Many organizational policies exist to protect an organization’s financial well-being and ensure that its records have integrity.

So, how do these apply to your dental practice?  Your basic objective is no different than any other organization; you want to treat your “customers” fairly, have happy employees, and earn a profit while doing so.  And having a clearly articulated set of policies will bring you far closer to this goal than the alternative, which approaches anarchy.

Continuing with this framework, your policies need to cover several aspects of your practice:

Operations – this area covers everything needed to deliver high-quality dentistry once a patient is in the dental chair.  This realm is everything from sterilization procedures to your preferred tray setup for endo procedures to how someone calling the practice with a dental emergency is accommodated.

Customer service – this policy set covers all interactions with your patients.  How is the phone answered?  What is the time sequence for confirming a patient’s attendance at an upcoming appointment?  What steps are taken to get a patient’s pending treatment appointed? These policies are often the ones that receive the least attention from the doctor and yet are the most discernable to a patient.

HR – of the four areas listed, this is the one where practices tend to have the most developed policies.  Probably this is because having an employee manual is an externally mandated requirement.  However, while many practices have a handbook designed to defend the dentist against certain legal issues, we often find there to be significant deficiencies.  For example, we see many practices where the amount that each employee is supposed to be paid is not documented anywhere.  This can present a significant challenge when employees cause themselves to be overpaid because proving payroll embezzlement normally requires first being able to determine the suspected employee’s correct compensation.  If your entire documentation of an employee’s entitlement is a contract that was signed five years ago, with the employee having received three raises since then, proving correct compensation is probably an uphill battle.

Detailed job descriptions and regular and documented performance reviews are also important if termination or other job action is to be taken against an underperforming or dishonest employee.  Many practices rely on the “employment at will” laws in their jurisdiction to bail them out of situations caused by haphazard HR policies.  Regretfully, some practices have learned the hard way about the danger posed by this approach.

Financial integrity – if we were assigning letter grades to the four areas, this is the one where most practices would receive their lowest grade.  Most dentists feel that their education and experience have not given them sufficient background to understand what needs to be done here. Many abdicate the development and implementation of policy to their office manager.  While it is fine for an office manager to propose policies and to ensure that staff members follow them, the practice owner’s role in this process should never be surrendered.

Here are some of the areas you need to think about:

  • Separation of functions.  No employee should receive, record, deposit, and reconcile money coming into the practice.  In a bigger practice, this can be accomplished by assigning different employees to each of these functions.  In a small practice, accomplishing division may require the practice owner or spouse to perform one or more of these steps personally.
  • Oversight.  Every employee with financial responsibilities, including the office manager, requires oversight.  Some of the supervision of the office manager can be outsourced; for example, an external bookkeeper can perform an independent monthly calculation to ensure that collections according to practice management software agree with bank deposits and that the total of daily reports from practice management software articulates with monthly reporting (which confirms that there was no after-hours activity that was not captured on the reports provided to the practice owner. 
  • Software Controls.  Practice management software contains plenty of safeguards, many of which are promptly undermined by dental practices.  For example, we see many practices where there is a single login id that is used by everyone.  This compromises accountability and means that everyone in the practice has administrator privileges, which is never a good idea. 

Administrator powers in software should normally be limited to the practice owner in solo practices and possibly granted to an office manager in multi-doctor practices. 

The treatment of “adjustments” in software is often poorly controlled, both in terms of who is empowered to make adjustments and how adjustments are categorized in software.  We frequently see a catch-all like “miscellaneous adjustment” used to capture the majority of adjustments made in a practice, where it is vastly preferable to have specific adjustment categories for each category of adjustment (e.g., each PPO and each category of “courtesy” adjustments) and to make use of a miscellaneous category a rarity and required to be supported by explanatory notes.

  • Internal audit.  One thing that cannot be delegated is the daily review of transactions.  Each provider (dentist and hygienist) should review the report showing their work and sign the report as an attestation of its accuracy.  In addition to reviewing their personal production, a practice owner should generate a practice-wide report showing at least payments, adjustments, deletions, and modifications and personally review that report.

Policy deficits can take two forms.  Some practices function without rules (the “anarchy” that we referred to earlier.  Others have policies, except that they are not properly documented. 

Not committing your policies to writing exposes you to a couple of dangers.  First, undocumented policies tend to drift over time, with the shift invariably being towards what is easier for staff, as opposed to what is desired by the practice owner and what will produce the best outcomes.  Furthermore, such slippage normally takes place without the practice owner being aware that it is happening.

 The other danger from undocumented policies is that they are vulnerable to staffing changes.  We have seen many practices where the owner suddenly realized the perishable nature of their operations when the office manager was caught stealing, and much of the practice’s institutional knowledge suddenly vanished.

If you are reading this and are suddenly aware of the magnitude of your deficit in this area, don’t despair.  We are able to help you close much of the vacuum you are perceiving.  Our Office Protection System involves an experienced specialist from Prosperident working with you to identify and address your policy weaknesses and to lessen your vulnerabilities. We would love to help!

Contact Us

Prosperident Webinar July 2021 – External Threats to Your Practice

Join your Prosperident hosts Amber Weber, Wendy Askins, and David Harris as they discuss non-embezzlement threats to a practice. Topics covered include burglary, medication scams and information theft.

If you want to check out other webinars that we have done, they are all available here – Or if you prefer to receive content in podcast format, Prosperident’s The Dental Practice Owner’s Podcast is now available on Spotify, TuneIn and iHeart Radio. You can subscribe using one of the buttons below.

CA Woman Arrested for Embezzling from Dentist has Connection to Hell’s Angels

Katrina Maras

SONOMA — A relatively minor federal fraud case came about after federal agents raided a Santa Rosa home as part of their massive probe into the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, including an alleged murder and two unsolved disappearances, court records recently revealed.

Katrina Maras is charged in federal court with fraudulent use of an unauthorized access device; in layman’s terms, she allegedly used the company credit card for a dentist’s office where she worked to purchase roughly $12,800 in personal expenses. Maras has pleaded not guilty, was freed within days of her July 2020 arrest, and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, court records show.

However, recently filed court records revealed that a 2017 FBI raid that led to the seizure of evidence in Maras’ case wasn’t connected to her, but to her romantic partner at the time and his alleged ties to the Hells Angels. Neither Maras nor her partner were charged, but authorities confirmed in court records the raid was related to the 2017 indictment of a dozen Hells Angels, on charges of murder and mayhem.

During the raid, agents seized ammunition, suspected steroids, a ball peen hammer, and several electronic devices and SIM cards, according to an FBI receipt for property that was attached to a defense motion.

Maras’ partner’s link to the case was revealed in a failed defense motion seeking to get Maras’ statements to the FBI thrown out of court. The motion says Maras was pregnant with her second child on July 29, 2020, when a CHP officer and federal agents — some of them armed with AR-15 rifles — took her into custody and transported her young son to her partner.

Maras was then interviewed for two hours about the Hells Angels. The lead prosecutor in the Hells Angels case asked her questions about items seized in the 2017 raid, according to the defense memo, which argued any statements she made were involuntary.

“Although Ms. Maras did not expressly ask for a lawyer, she expressed concern that she should probably talk to an attorney because she was confused by the situation and she did not want to give the wrong answers,” her attorney, Dena Marie Young, wrote in court records. “The implication throughout the interviews was that if she answered their questions, she would be able to go home, but if she did not, she would be placed in custody and thus deprived of her job and her son.”

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria barely entertained the motion, denying it in a four-sentence June 21 order that said the defense “has done nothing in her motion to create even an inference that that any of her statements during the interrogation at the courthouse were coerced or not properly mirandized,” of that law enforcement had been improper.

The Hells Angels indictment, filed in 2017, charges the defendants with murdering a sergeant-at-arms of the notorious biker gang at the Fresno clubhouse, over an internal conflict. Along the way, the FBI investigated two unsolved disappearances of other Hells Angels who were also last seen in the Fresno area. Prosecutors allege the victim, a Sonoma Hells Angel, was cremated after being shot in the head. Other charges include a brutal assault by a former Sonoma chapter member that authorities call a form of witness intimidation.

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You Don’t See This Every Day – NV Assistant Allegedly Broke into Office Where She Worked and Stole $23K

Laurel Eich

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) – A Reno woman is facing several felony charges, accused of breaking into a Sun Valley dental office, stealing more than $22,000 in cash and checks, and performing tooth extractions without a license.

The burglary happened May 3, 2021 on Sun Valley Boulevard. Deputies responded to an after-hours alarm call and found an open door and a broken window. They also found a total of $22,861 in cash and checks stolen from a cash drawer.

Washoe County Sheriff’s Office detectives identified an employee of the dental office, 42-year-old Laurel Eich, as a person of interest in the burglary.

During the investigation, detectives learned that Eich had previously performed 13 tooth extractions on one person. Eich admitted to detectives that she performed the medical procedure and used anesthetic disposed of by the dental office.


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Florida Woman Arrested and Charged With Embezzling from Orthodontist

Tasha Enid Almodovar

Prosperident’s Wendy Askins is someone who any embezzler should fear. In her role as Supervising Examiner, she has helped many orthodontists and dentists discover and put a stop to employee theft taking place in their offices.

Recently, another doctor was the beneficiary of Wendy’s well-honed skills, which resulted in the arrest of Tampa’s Tasha Enid Almodovar. Ms. Almodovar was arrested on June 23, 2021, and charged with Grand Theft Second Degree, which covers theft of between $20,000 and $100,000 and carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

At the time of her arrest, she was reportedly working in another dental practice. All of us at Prosperident congratulate Wendy for her fine work on this case.

Tasha in happier times

Tasha’s next court appearance is July 19.