Tumwater, WA – A husband and wife who owned and operated a foreign-language interpreter service in Mountlake Terrace have been sentenced to 90 days in jail for a fraudulent billing scheme.
Philip Ward, 44, and his wife, Kitzia Huerta-Ward, 40, were each sentenced on one felony count of first-degree theft involving the submission of thousands of fraudulent bills to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). They had pleaded guilty earlier to the charges.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy ordered Ward to serve the 90 days behind bars. She allowed Huerta-Ward to serve the first 30 days of her sentence in work release, and the remainder in electronic home monitoring, if jail officials determine she’s eligible.
Murphy also ordered the couple to repay L&I $16,331 for overbilling the state.
Interpreted for injured workers
The Washington Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the cases based on an L&I investigation.
Ward, the company president, and Huerta-Ward, the vice-president and secretary, fraudulently billed L&I from mid-2006 to September 2008.
L&I had been paying the couple’s firm, Hispanic Voices, to provide Spanish-language interpretation for injured workers at medical and vocational appointments related to workers’ compensation claims.
L&I’s investigation found the couple billed L&I for interpretive services where no medical providers submitted a bill, padded bills for services that were provided, and submitted bills for uncertified interpreters using the provider numbers of certified interpreters.
Changed interpreters’ billing forms
During the investigation, several interpreters said they were paid for their actual service time, but later found that Ward and Huerta-Ward inflated the bills to L&I and kept the difference.
The couple typically required interpreters to leave part of their billing forms blank and said they would finish filling them out ‒ even though L&I requires interpreters to complete the entire form.
Ward and Huerta-Ward started Hispanic Voices in 2004 as a two-person operation, which grew to more than 60 interpreters serving clients in King, Pierce, Whatcom and Snohomish counties. It closed in 2011.
Source: WA L&I