BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – A grand jury has indicted seven people linked to a vocational school in Bakersfield for allegedly stealing more than $ 100,000 in compensation intended to help injured workers.
Those charged were employees and owners of the Instituto Hispano Americano, located on Chester Avenue, according to a statement from the Kern County District Attorney’s Office. Employees of two local law firms have also been charged.
Law firms were not named in the statement. Prosecutors said they are not disclosing this information at this time “because the alleged actions of the individuals have not been attributed to law firms or other employees / owners of the law firms.”
Anna Ayala-Reyes, Sylvia Carrillo, Evelyn Cruz, Martin Cruz, Nelfido Rolando Cruz, Cynthia Ozaeta and Sandra Paredez have pleaded not guilty to a total of 85 counts. The charges include conspiracy, concealing facts about insurance benefits and concealing financial interests.
Their next hearing is scheduled for June 11.
“Like many types of programs that benefit the general public, workers’ compensation laws can only help those who need them most if they are protected against fraud and other schemes designed to deflect funds, ”District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said in the statement. “When evidence of abuse of the workers’ compensation system is identified, it will be investigated and prosecuted to hold offenders accountable and ensure that benefits remain available to those who truly are. qualified to receive them. “
Prosecutors said the charges were related to the alleged misuse of supplementary travel allowance vouchers, which provide injured workers with disabilities up to $ 6,000 to retrain to make them more competitive on the job. the work market.
The defendants are charged with defrauding 20 insurance companies over $ 100,000 by operating the voucher program. They sent false or misleading documents to insurance companies claiming injured workers were eligible to receive vouchers despite the students failing to meet minimum qualifications for the program, the indictment says . It is alleged that the school lied about dozens of test results required for enrollment.
The injured workers were referred to the school by employees of local law firms who were paid up to $ 600 for each dismissal, prosecutors said.
The years-long investigation included several search warrants, arrests in several counties and the examination of thousands of seized documents.
“By allegedly abusing benefits designed to help injured workers re-enter the workforce and earn a living, this company has deceived workers, insurance companies and our state,” Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said in the press release. “Worker’s Compensation Bonds are a vital program for retraining injured workers and the Department of Insurance will continue to protect it. “