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Willmar, Minn., woman faces felony theft charges

WILLMAR -- A 50-year-old Willmar woman made her first court appearance Wednesday on felony theft and theft by swindle charges for allegedly stealing $130,000 in insurance payments by falsifying language interpreting documents from local medical clinics.

Unconditional bail was set at $20,000 for Sahra Ibrahim Gedi. Her next appearance is Nov. 21 in Kandiyohi County District Court.

According to the complaint, a Blue Cross Blue Shield investigator contacted Willmar police in August 2011 regarding reports from Affiliated Community Medical Centers that a Somali interpreter was showing up to interpret for Somali patients when the clinic had already set up another interpreter. The suspicious activity spurred an investigation that uncovered more than 1,000 interpreter worksheets that had been submitted by Gedi to her employer, Kim Tong Translation Services of Minneapolis.

The insurance investigator, a Willmar police detective and officials from ACMC met in October 2011, and then clinic officials began examining the allegedly forged documents against the clinic's patient records.

The clinic officials found the alleged forgeries contained the actual names of clinic patients but contained appointment times that varied somewhat from clinic records. The line at the bottom of the forms, where clinic employees were to sign and print their name, contained mostly illegible signatures.

The investigation revealed direct deposits and cashed checks from the Kim Tong agency to Gedi between September 2009 and June 2011. The direct deposits and checks totaled approximately $120,400. Spreadsheets containing patient names, dates of service and amount paid to Gedi matched the checks and direct deposits to Gedi.

Information from Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar also showed forged interpreter worksheets, for another company, Language Bank, for a six-month period in 2011.

Gedi was interviewed by police in April and confirmed she had worked as an interpreter for about 10 years, working for the Kim Tong Agency from 2002 to July or August of 2011 and for Language Bank for six months in 2011. She explained the process of completing the worksheet to the detective and said she would fax the forms to her employer and would receive $40 for her services. She got paid every two weeks and said the number of times per week she provides services varied, but was from three to five times a week.

She said that she met with Kim Tong in the summer of 2010, informed him that ACMC had hired its own interpreters and that the clinic did not need her services any longer. She alleged that Tong had told her to sign the worksheets herself or have patients sign where the doctors or nurses were supposed to sign.

When the detective confronted Gedi and asked if she had forged the signatures on the 73 worksheets from Family Practice and 1,716 worksheets from ACMC, she said she needed "time to think about it." She was interviewed a second time, on June 29, and allegedly admitted to signing the documents. She said she actually interpreted for some of the appointments, but acknowledged she forged the majority of the documents.

Information from the insurance investigator showed that $121,500 had been stolen from the Kim Tong Agency and that $8,400 had been stolen from Language Bank. Kim Tong had billed Blue Cross Blue Shield for $75 per hour, with the agency keeping $25 and paying Gedi $50.

On Aug. 13, the insurance investigator informed the local detective that Kim Tong had paid $121,500 to Blue Cross and that the Language Bank had paid $8,500, with another $2,125 awaiting payment to the insurance company.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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