Former dentist office manager Kathy Salazar, 51, of Springerville, Arizona, was sentenced to serve one year in prison but the victims of her crimes say the negative effects will linger on long after she is released.
Salazar pled guilty, Aug. 9, to stealing from her employer and insurance fraud. In the 19-month period from Jan. 1, 2005 to July 31, 2006, investigators determined that Salazar stole $88,409 from St. Johns dentist Howard Lee. That’s an average of approximately $233 per day.
Although sentenced to serve a year in prison, Salazar will likely be released within a few months due to the State’s ongoing budget crisis.
Salazar was also ordered to repay Lee ($88,409). When she is released from prison, she is to serve seven years probation. The probation may be extended for three years if she has not completed restitution. Kathy Salazar was also ordered to pay a fine of $9,000.
In the pre-sentence report, it was recommended that Kathy Salazar make monthly payments of $1,052 toward restitution, time payment fees of $20, monthly probation fees of $65, an “intercounty compact” fee of $150 and $400 in attorney’s fees at $10 per month.
Since she was charged, Kathy Salazar has been living with relatives in Phoenix.
Salazar pled guilty as part of a plea agreement to one count of insurance fraud and one count of felony theft. The state’s investigation was limited to a 19-month period, but according to Lee, Kathy Salazar’s crimes went on much longer than that. He wrote in a letter to the court that “we have proved approximately $300,000” was stolen in a five-year period.
Salazar admitted that she falsified charts, pocketed cash payments from patients and forged Lee’s signature on checks which she cashed. She worked for Lee for 28 years, starting at age 18. Lee told investigators that Kathy Salazar’s crimes had taken an emotional toll on him as Salazar and her husband had been “close personal friends for decades.” Lee told an investigator that his “practice has been devastated and has never fully recovered.”
A former Community First bank employee told investigators that Kathy Salazar was going into the bank almost daily, cashing checks written to Lee. The former bank employee said that Salazar “would make friends with the employees by taking them out to lunch and they would cash Dr. Lee’s checks without his permission.”
Judge Michael P. Roca described Kathy Salazar’s forgeries as “simplistic beyond belief.”
“The cynical among us would refer to this as a self-operated profit sharing plan,” Roca said, before imposing the sentence. “Someone besides Ms Salazar should have been paying a little more attention to the business side of Dr. Lee’s practice. Likewise, the fact that the bank regularly went along with the fairly simplistic method employed in this case strikes me as beyond believable and the fact that it went on as long as it did strikes me as being ample evidence of a cynical and exploitative approach.
“Ms. Salazar, I understand you realize now that you did make a mistake but I don’t see here that you realize that it started a long time ago, followed by another, and another, and another, and another, and another and another.... And you corrupted others from the proper execution of their duties on behalf of their employers – some realized it and some didn’t. You took a lot of people with you. I question whether or not you haven’t taken members of your family with you. I question whether or not members of your family have benefited... If so, I’m sad for them. Something that never should have happened at all has reached out and tainted them as well.”
In her statement to investigators Salazar claimed that some of the cash she obtained by cashing checks made out to Lee, she shared with him and he never asked her where the cash came from. She also said that Lee’s “employees were not paid very well and were not given any benefits.”
But Salazar only expressed remorse in her statement in court at sentencing. (Hear the audio recording of Salazar’s statement and a letter expressing remorse online at wmicentral.com). “All I can say is I’m sorry,” Salazar said, “for all that I’ve done to hurt everybody. All I can do is ask for forgiveness and I have every day for the last four years of my life. There isn’t a day that goes by that I didn’t think about it and try to do what’s right...”
In a letter to the judge, Salazar wrote “I have lost my husband and my only home and business that I worked hard for...I filed insurance claims to help people get their dental work done and to help Dr. Lee with his business...Then I got greedy and cashed checks and took some money and gave Dr. Lee cash.”
Salazar wrote that she has, since she was charged, had to work “two jobs to make ends meet.” According to her pre-sentence report, Salazar has worked in Maricopa County for the last two years, earning $2,442 per month combined at the two jobs.
Friends and family members submitted letters of support, but one letter called for her to be sentenced to substantial prison time.
Have questions or concerns about your practice? Call us toll-free at 888-398-2327 or click HERE.