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Hospital Clerk Held in Billing Fraud Case

April 03, 1999|TINA DIRMANN

An employee at Ventura County Regional Medical Center has been arrested on suspicion of stealing money from patients by double billing them for services, authorities said.

Police arrested 37-year-old Dario Garza on Thursday. He has worked as an admitting clerk at the hospital for four months, authorities said.

Garza was booked on felony embezzlement, and bail was set at $10,000. Arraignment is scheduled for Monday.

Hospital officials became suspicious of Garza after several patients complained about receiving bills for treatments they already paid for, investigators said.

"They said they came in, paid in person, and then they'd receive a bill for the same amount later," said Susan Creede, investigator for the district attorney's office.

Authorities declined to say how many patients have come forward, or how much money they believe Garza has taken, saying the investigation is still going on and there may be more victims.

Sam Edwards, associate administrator for hospital services, said he believes the amount of money stolen is small.

"We're not talking about huge discrepancies," Edwards said. "The accounts we're talking about were very small, not even in the hundreds."

Gary Auer, chief investigator for the district attorney's office, said the Garza case is unusual and that patients have no reason to fear they will be taken advantage of when they see their doctor.

"This case is certainly not indicative of any continuing problem either at the Regional Medical Center or at any other County of Ventura medical facilities," Auer said.

Edwards, who said he could not remember another embezzlement incident at the hospital during his three-year tenure, praised the hospital's financial department for helping investigators detect the discrepancies.

"Our financial controls are very tight and that's why it becomes clear when something's not right, even when the numbers are very small," Edwards said.

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