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DOWNEY : Pair Plead No Contest to Medi-Cal Crimes

January 27, 1994

Owners of a defunct South Gate-based wheelchair company have pleaded no contest to charges of grand theft and fraud for failing to deliver wheelchairs to disabled Medi-Cal patients.

Linda Delatorre, 50, of Menifee, and her brother, James Freelove, 48, of Norwalk, entered the pleas Jan. 20 and agreed to pay $90,976 in restitution to the state. They are scheduled to appear Feb. 17 in Norwalk Superior Court for sentencing.

The state Department of Health Services began investigating the company, called The Chair Concern, in July after customers complained that they had filed Medi-Cal prescriptions for wheelchairs and parts that were never delivered. Delatorre and Freelove were found to have billed Medi-Cal and received payment for 42 of the wheelchairs, said Paul Fice, an investigator for the Department of Health Services. Most of the customers were outpatients at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey.

Attorney Leonard A. Matsuk said Delatorre and Freelove wanted to deliver the wheelchairs, but "got caught in a cash-flow crunch. They did not deliberately set out to defraud the medical system. They were victims of the economy."

However, Deputy Dist. Atty. Therese Farrell said evidence shows the company had "no intention of fulfilling the orders" when it submitted the claims to the state.

Matsuk said Delatorre and Freelove pleaded no contest to avoid trial and a possible harsher sentence. They were facing a maximum jail sentence of six years, four months.

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