Judge Robert J. Elgee had harsh words for scam suspect Raquel Martinez after placing her on three years supervised probation at sentencing Monday morning in Blaine County 5th District Court.
"What she did, I have to say, is despicable," said Elgee. "That is a thought-out scam that took place over a period of time."
Martinez, who pleaded guilty almost a year ago to one count of forgery, was originally charged with three felony and four misdemeanor counts of theft for allegedly bilking four Ketchum-area illegal Hispanic workers out of more than $8,000. Martinez never admitted to the theft charges, but agreed nonetheless to repay the money as part of a plea agreement with the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
According to court records, Martinez, a 29-year-old former Hailey woman, posed as a part-time federal immigration employee while employed as a receptionist at Thunder Spring in Ketchum and promised the Hispanic workers that she would help them with paperwork to gain legal status in return for the money. No such assistance was ever forthcoming, and after the Ketchum Police Department investigated the scam Martinez was arrested in November 2006.
Defense attorney Dan Dolan objected to information about the scam's being offered as evidence against his client but was overruled by Elgee, who reminded Dolan that Martinez in effect admitted to the crimes when she agreed to reimburse the victims.
"There are two sides to what happened," said Dolan. "Most of the money was not obtained inappropriately. However, Ms. Martinez was prepared to resolve this issue."
Dolan further claimed that some of the money was paid to Martinez through "garage sales."
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback refuted that, saying, "It looks to me that Ms. Martinez took advantage of the most vulnerable people in our community—people that she knew were least likely to go to authorities and tell what was going on."
"Thunder Spring was trying to have all its employees legalized and these people ultimately lost their jobs," Fredback said.
Monday's sentencing was the sixth time the hearing had been scheduled. Five others had been continued, the last three in November and December because Martinez claimed she was receiving treatments for cervical cancer in Tijuana, Mexico. The court received a letter in December from a man claiming to be a doctor who wrote that Martinez was under his care but has received no other information verifying her claim.
"It's impossible for me to pay for medication here," Martinez told the court Monday. "It's way too expensive. I just want to live, I guess."
Court records list Martinez's residence as Shoshone, though she said she has been living in Southern California while undergoing medical treatment in Tijuana.
By being placed on supervised probation, Martinez will have restrictions on her whereabouts and will not be able to travel whenever she pleases. Elgee said he will reconsider the restrictions if he receives further verification that Martinez indeed has cancer.
Martinez paid the court $4,335 in cash prior to sentencing, which was the balance she owed for restitution to the scam victims.
"How she was able to go to these treatments and still have money to repay restitution, I have no idea," Elgee said.
The judge also ordered a withheld judgment, which means that the conviction can be removed from Martinez's record if she successfully completes probation. He further ordered her to provide 240 hours of community service.
He warned Martinez that he can impose a prison sentence if she violates probation.