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Case VIII

 

Case VIII: Chapter 1: A Path Forward

Matthew Dudley was sitting in the main dining room with the Wall Street Journal and a cup of coffee in front of him.  The coffee was cold and he’d been staring at the same unread page for quite some time.  He remained deeply troubled.  In his short time at La Vida Aureo there had been several deaths.  The deaths of the Maintenance Man (Case I, September, 2014) and Ms. Carmine Felicio (Case III, November, 2014) were accidents, but he was struggling with the murder of Martha Arthur.

He was most concerned with the fact that personal information had so easily been stolen and used in that situation. The concept of identity theft was relatively new to him and he had this gnawing sense in his gut that he had not seen its full extent nor the variety of nefarious actions that could result.

He realized that he had to get his mind back to the present and the best way to do that was to stay busy and actively engaged. He needed to focus on the positive aspects of his life and there was much to be done for the residents. Also, the LVA Community Assist Program was taking shape and he was confident that there would be many positive outcomes from their efforts. He was hopeful that there would not be any surprises as they became more active and involved in the community

The replacement for Janetta Johari was due today. He had recommended to Isabella that they permit Beth Ford and the Team do the actual hiring.  They both realized that team chemistry was critical, particularly at this early stage and the Team had to be comfortable with Janetta’s replacement.  He had promised to sit in on their meeting which was currently in progress.

Dudley heard the laughter before he entered the meeting room. Beth greeted him. “Doc, let me introduce you to Mikaylah Willis who will be taking over Janetta’s responsibilities.  She was just telling us a bit about her background in pharmaceuticals when you came in.  I can assure you that Mikaylah is very well-qualified and the Team is excited about having her join us.  But, some of the details of her previous experience with Pfizer might be a bit embarrassing for an older gentleman like you.”

“Not to worry. I don’t embarrass easily.  I’m eager to meet Ms. Willis and learn about her background.”

“OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you!  Why don’t you continue, Mikaylah?”

“I guess I was a math nerd in high school and one of my teachers recommended me for an intern position with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals doing data analysis for one of their trials of a drug to treat cardiovascular problems.   I was a quiet kid and pretty much stayed in my cubicle working on my assignments, but one day, there was a rather loud discussion going on that I could not help but overhear.  Apparently, the Manager in charge of this study was unhappy with the results.  The study participants were not showing any improvements in their cardiovascular system, but most were refusing to return the unused pills.  The Manager was concerned about Pfizer’s potential liability with this medicine remaining in the public once the trial was officially cancelled.  So, he decided to send a team of research scientists out to interview selective participants, particularly the ones who were most adamant about keeping the remaining pills.  What they learned was so unexpected that the news spread throughout the office and pretty soon everyone was repeating the story, often with much laughter. Today, Pfizer markets that “failed cardiovascular drug” as Viagra and it has been far more profitable than even their most optimistic estimates for the original intended market.”

“I continued to work for Pfizer on a part-time basis throughout college and joined them permanently after graduation.  I had many interesting and challenging assignments and learned a great deal about the pharmaceutical industry.  But, I suspect the remarkable success of Viagra eventually began to affect people’s judgement.  I grew increasingly disillusioned as the marketing focused less on medicine and more about enhancing your lifestyle.  I mean, have you seen some of the ads on TV and in magazines?  Anyway, I eventually left Pfizer and began working with various agencies to help them manage their pharmacy benefit programs.  When JJ called me a few weeks ago and described this program, I jumped at the opportunity.  Prescription medication has become an important part of many people’s lives and I believe it is essential that people have the necessary information about these powerful substances.”

When she finished, it was obvious to Dudley that Mikaylah Willis would be an asset, not only to the Team, but to the program in general. He turned to the entire group, “I’m eager to hear what you have learned in your initial visits.”

Mila Espalin spoke first. “One of the main things I learned was that so many of the people out there that we could help have no access to computers.  I never realized how naïve we were at the State to assume that we could just put information on the Internet and it would be readily available to everyone.  We need to keep that in mind and Minot and I have already been talking about alternative means of communication.”

“One of the things I’ve seen too much of, said Arnetta, is people ending up in the hospital or becoming permanently disabled because of an accident in the home. I believe we could make a huge impact if we provided some information or instructions to make homes safer.  I suspect that the money spent on building a ramp to get a wheelchair into the house could be better spent making a series of simple modifications in the house. Then, maybe the wheelchair wouldn’t be needed in the first place.”

The other Team members joined the discussion, but Dudley missed much of the content. His mind wandered and he began to imagine the amount of good this Program would do in the community.  He realized they were off to a good start.

As the meeting broke up, Dudley stopped Beth Ford and Minot Atkinson to thank them once again for their assistance with the computer theft of Martha Arthur’s nieces’ information and for locating the site where Atrisca tried to sell the jewelry.  “I don’t know exactly how you were able to find out what you did, but it was critical to the investigation.  Thank you once again.  I remain apprehensive about how easy it is to steal information and I hope to never have to call on you again, but I fear that is a distinct possibility.”

“I am concerned that, as more people sign up for health insurance with the Affordable Care Act, there will be more opportunities for fraud.  So much information is required and many of the folks signing up are less educated and sophisticated.  I fear that there is an increase in the likelihood of being deceived by a stranger who offers to help them.  I don’t think it’s necessary to mention my concern to the entire Team, but please be on the alert for this kind of activity.  I think it will take many forms.”

Minot said, “I share your concern. Computers have just become another tool for people to conduct criminal activity.  It is something the Team has talked about and you can rest assured that we are all aware of the potential and will remain vigilant.”

As Minot turned to walk away, Janetta Johari approached with a bright smile on her face.  “I’m glad you came to our meeting this morning and had an opportunity to meet Mikaylah.  I’m certain she will fit right in and quickly become a valuable member of the Team.”  Then, touching his arm, she said, “Don’t forget dinner on Thursday.”

 

Dudley returned to the dining room to retrieve his ToDo list that he had left on the table earlier. Paloma Angostura was waiting with the list in her hand as he approached.  She suggested he sit and relax for a few minutes before starting his maintenance and repairs for the day.  He looked toward the door and said to Paloma, “Well, here come two people and even I can tell that they have a secret by the smiles on their faces. Something tells me that they are about to share that secret with us.”

“Señor Doc.  It is no secret, at least not to anyone who has been watching them lately!”

Larry Blackburn and JoAnne Elliott were still smiling broadly when they took the two empty seats at the table with Dudley and Señora Angostura. Larry spoke first. “Doc, I’d like to get your opinion about what I think is a policy issue at La Vida Aureo.  When I moved in here, I surrendered my life insurance policy to purchase what Ms. Duncan referred to as a Lifetime Contract.  My understanding is that the contract allows me to live here for the rest of my life regardless of my health or medical needs.  Right now, I’m living in an apartment that’s part of the Independent Living Unit, but as my situation changes, I’ll be able to move to other areas of the facility.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s correct.  A number of residents have a similar arrangement.”

“What if I wanted to change it?”

“I don’t know.  You’d have to talk to Isabella.  Why? What did you have in mind? I certainly hope you’re not thinking of leaving.”  Dudley felt a sharp kick under the table and noticed that Paloma had an expression on her face that seemed to say, “Are you really that blind?”

JoAnne continued.  “Larry and I want to live together in my casita. We’d like to see if there is some way that Isabella would consider combining our individual contracts so that we could both spend the rest of our lives here, together.”

“Oh. Uh. That would be nice.  I’m certain Isabella would do whatever she can to accommodate your wishes.  Yes, I’m sure she would.”

“Then, we’ll try to see her as soon as possible. Thank you for your support.”

JoAnne added, “And for being instrumental in getting us together in the first place.”

As they got up to leave, JoAnne smiled at Dudley and asked, “Who were all those pretty young women I saw you with earlier?  Is there something about your love life that you’re not telling?”

Dudley was certain that JoAnne had seen Janetta touching his arm and smiling at him.  He tried to think fast. “Ah, er, No,” he stammered. I assume you saw me with one of the women who are part of our Community Assist Program.  In fact, it might be a very good idea if you could spend some time with them talking about your experiences with the VA.  If it’s OK, I’ll have Beth Ford or Minot Atkinson give you a call.”

JoAnne was in such a happy mood, she couldn’t resist teasing Dudley a bit more. “A young French girl, no less?  Are you sure you’re not keeping secrets, Doc?”

It took Dudley a few seconds to recover once he realized that JoAnne was NOT referring to Janetta.  “Uh, I don’t think so.  Minot’s from Albuquerque.  I think her folks are both associated with the Air Force at Kirtland in some capacity.”

“Really?  You might ask her if she was actually born in North Dakota. If so and her folks are with the Air Force, I believe her name is pronounced My-Not rather than Min-Oh.  I suspect she was named after the Air Force base in Minot, North Dakota.  I met lots of vets who were stationed there.  There’s a huge billboard that the local Chamber of Commerce put up that says Why not, Minot?  And some Air Force hotshots added Freezin’s the Reason! in letters just as big.  But, I’ll leave that little bit of trivia for you to deal with as you see fit.  Anyway, we need to see Isabella.”

Larry and JoAnne walked toward Isabella’s office holding hands.  “I’m happy for them,” said Dudley. “And, I‘m glad they found each other at this point in their lives.”

Paloma gave him an all-knowing look and said, “We all need someone in our life, Señor Doc, even you.”

Dudley didn’t know quite how to respond. He thought his best course of action would be to pick up his List and attend to his responsibilities, which is exactly what he did.

Chapter 2: The Crypto-Jews of New Mexico

Abe Goldman called Dudley early the following morning.  “I’m at the Jewish Community Center on Wyoming Boulevard and can pick you up to drive to Hector’s.”

“I would really appreciate that, Abe.  Thanks.  I’ll look for you out front about 10:30.”

On the drive to downtown, Dudley briefly described the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program to Abe and asked for his impressions and any suggestions.  Abe smiled and said, “Our small community tends to be pretty self-sufficient.  It helps that so many Jewish mothers encouraged their sons to become doctors.   But, it sounds like your program is really about information and preserving dignity and that would be beneficial to our community.  How about I arrange for your Team to make a brief presentation of what they’re up to?”

“That would be great, Abe. I know the Team would really appreciate the opportunity.  They’re still in the formative stages of deciding exactly how to approach these large and complex issues.”

Dudley was eager to see his friends again; it was always a positive experience, despite their constant teasing.  He would have to remember to be extra careful not to mention anything about Janetta.  He was eager to hear more from Abe about these so-called Crypto-Jews.

Hector was waiting for them to get settled at their usual table.  He had prepared a fresh pot of coffee and some just out-of-the –oven pastries which he brought to the table and took a chair with them.

Dudley began the conversation, hoping to preempt any questions about himself or the recent events at La Vida Aureo. “I don’t understand why these people are referred to as Crypto Jews.  I’ve known many Jewish people in New Mexico and they certainly don’t seem confused about their heritage or identity.   Perhaps you could start with a better explanation of this Rabbi you spoke of, Hillel?”

Abe began, “Hillel is one of the most important figures in Jewish history. He lived about two thousand years ago and is often credited with the first expression of what has become known as The Golden Rule.  There are several versions available, but they are variations of “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto another”.  The remainder of the traditional quote, which is the subject of some debate is “That is the whole Torah.  The rest is the explanation. Go and learn.”  “So, you can understand that when I heard Hector repeat the Golden Rule part followed by “that is the whole story”, it sounded very familiar to me.  Also, many people with Jewish heritage who came from Spain spoke a language called Ladino which is a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish.  Maybe, just maybe, that is the language Hector’s grandmother spoke which is why she was often difficult to understand.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard about this, said Dudley.  It certainly never came up in all my time here in the State and with any of the people I’ve ever met.”

Abe continued. “If Emilio will help me with Spanish history, I will tell you what I know and my story begins in southern Spain, near Seville, about the time of Columbus. Don’t you find it interesting that Hector named his place Saville and Sons?  Maybe it is really Sons of Seville!”

“If you’re going to tell that story, interjected Hakim, I believe I have something to contribute.  Remember, my people were involved, too.”

Abe began. “The southern part of Spain, near the city of Seville, was an area where culture flourished for centuries.  There was great art and literature and I personally believe that it was because the environment encouraged people of many different cultures and religions to live and work together cooperatively.  Then, in what Spanish historians call The Unification, Queen Isabella of Castile married King Ferdinand of Aragon resulting in the joining of these two monarchies to form modern day Spain.  One of the benefits of that union was that they financed and launched Columbus’ voyages to the New World. The bad news is that the new King and Queen issued the Proclamation of Alhambra (also called The Edict of Expulsion) which banished Jews and Muslims and any other non-Catholics, from Spain.  To make sure this was carried out, the Catholic Church instituted the Inquisition to determine who was really a true Catholic.”

“The Jews from Spain are known as Sephardim as distinguished from the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe from whom I am descended.  Many of the Sephardim converted to Catholicism and others, rather than face persecution, left the country for New Spain, Mexico. The ones who converted and were baptized into the Catholic faith are known as conversos although some continued to practice their Jewish faith in secret.  To avoid detection, many changed their names to sound more Spanish, often adopting a form of the town in which they lived or the name of an important local person. Some immigrated to Mexico where they hoped to avoid persecution, but the Inquisition followed them there.  Eventually, some families migrated north into what is now New Mexico, settling in small communities where they hoped to be safe, that is, away from the Catholic priests who were aggressively trying to convert the local population of pueblo Indians.  These immigrants often changed their names and adopted local customs to blend in with the local population and avoid further persecution. One particular problem had to do with reading.  Jews are known as the People of the Book and reading and learning have always been an important part of our culture.  The priests forbade all Catholics to read, particularly the new converts and, therefore, anyone caught reading or with a book in their possession was obviously a Jew. This situation continued until the Presbyterians showed up in New Mexico and started giving out Bibles. But, their arrival just added more complication to the issue of identity.”

“These actions make everything confusing and cause the story to remain somewhat clouded.   Because these people worked so hard to remain hidden, the available evidence can be hard to verify, leading to the expression Crypto Jews.  Most of it is circumstantial.  Like Hector, he remembers his grandmother saying certain things and I’ll bet he can remember some customs that she practiced that would appear to be Jewish in origin.  It has only been in the last few years that people here in New Mexico have tried to piece the entire story together.  There are many examples of Jewish culture and symbols that were simply accepted as the way older family members did things, rather than being identified as Jewish.”

“This story sounds very familiar to the experiences of my people in New Mexico,” added Ray.  “The priests gave us Christian names that were Spanish and forbade us to speak our native language or practice our traditional rituals. But, we were very clever and often disguised our ceremonies within the new Catholic practices.  We also hid our symbols in plain sight and were able to keep many of our traditions alive through our stories.”

“Those Jews who lived among Catholics and even those in small rural villages did many of the same things, added Abe.  It has been through the discovery of those hidden symbols and artifacts that their story has begun to emerge.”

“The practice of changing names or adopting a less Jewish-more Spanish spelling makes it more difficult to trace identities and further complicates things.  There are numerous examples of that practice in many cultures throughout history.  A similar thing happened in Germany as the Nazis came to power; many Jews there converted to Catholicism to avoid persecution, or worse. Sometimes, it was a simple as dropping an “n” so that, for example, Beckmann became Beckman, to appear less Jewish

Ray couldn’t resist injecting a bit of humor to this serious and often painful story. “Are you telling me that All-American characters like Superman, Batman and Spiderman could actually be Jewish?”

Abe laughed.  “Well, Ray, I think if you closely study the origin stories of some of those characters and the time in history that they were created, you will see a level of Jewish influence.”

“What about DNA testing or things like that”, asked Dudley.  “I understand that that technology has been used quite a bit to trace lineages.”

“True, it has been helpful, but again only circumstantial.  Unfortunately, there is no unique Jewish gene”!

Emilio picked up the story from this point. “The history of Jews in the New World and of Jewish identity is particularly confusing here in New Mexico.  Some New Mexicans claim to be Jewish as proof that they are pure Spanish, based on the assumption that a Jew would never marry an Indian, outside his race. It is generally accepted that there was considerable intermarriage between the first Spanish who came north from Mexico and the pueblo people who had been here for generations. After the initial attempt to conquer the native peoples, subsequent Spanish expeditions north were more intent on developing permanent settlements.  Unfortunately, the majority of written records are those kept by the Spanish priests and these were typically very detailed.  I suspect, however, that these were influenced by their personal views as well as an attempt to appeal to their superiors. The Inquisition-related records, for example, are particularly extensive.  The pueblo people relied on a tradition of oral history which was also likely influenced by their own perspective of people and events.”

“Over time, Emilio continued, there have been various views of identity here in New Mexico.  One view is that it is preferable to be 100 percent Spanish because the pueblo people and culture are viewed as inferior.  But for those who are descended from those early Spanish who came north from Mexico, that is probably unlikely; there were just too few Spanish men and too many pueblo women in those days.  Then there is the Raza Cosmica perspective that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s which argues that the more racially mixed people are the superior ones.  I’ve personally observed considerable prejudice even today when the discussion turns to heritage and identity. In addition to the perceived problems of Spanish versus Indian, there is considerable evidence of French influence from the fur trappers who were active along the northern reaches of the Rio Grande about the same time.  And, if you really want to start a fight about heritage, all you have to do is mention Estevanico an African slave who history says lead some early explorers searching for Cibola, the fabled Seven Cities of Gold.”

“So, it is easy to see how difficult it is to determine the true identity of many people currently living in New Mexico.”

The group was quiet for a few minutes before Dudley spoke. “It seems to me that Hector’s perspective and that of Rabbi Hillel are the most appropriate.  We should simply treat others as we want to be treated.  Anything beyond this always results in trouble.”

Case VIII: Chapter 3: A Focused Approach

Isabella asked Dudley to come to her office.  “I assume you are aware of the request Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott made?  They make a great couple and I’m glad it happened here; we can certainly use the positive news.  I’d like your input to what I want to propose to them.  I’m concerned that Martha Arthur’s casita may be hard to re-rent because of the potential stigma of the murder.  If Larry & JoAnne will agree to move into that unit, I believe I can work out a fair and equitable arrangement for their respective contracts with La Vida Aureo.  That would open one casita and one apartment in Independent Living which we can easily fill from our Waiting List.  What do you think?”

“Isabella, I think that is an ideal solution; everyone benefits. And, Larry and JoAnne are very mature people who would not have any apprehension about Mrs. Arthur’s casita.”

“I’ll need to talk with Denise Harris to confirm that arrangement, but I don’t see any problem.  My understanding is that something similar was included in Mrs. Arthur’s Will.”

“While we’re talking about ways to help people move forward from that unfortunate incident, continued Dudley, I’d like to discuss Mrs. Branch.”

“I passed her in the hallway the other day and she seemed to be holding up pretty well.”

“But, Isabella, we both know Mrs. Branch well enough to realize that she will put on a brave front rather than let anyone see how much she is actually grieving.”

“You’re probably right, Doc. Do you have any suggestions about how we could help her without it being too obvious what we’re up to?”

“I was thinking about Señora Barela.  She strikes me as another elderly woman who is alone and who could use some companionship.  I suspect she and Mrs. Branch actually have much in common, despite their previous rocky start and that unfortunate episode with the poisonous tea (Case V, January 2015).”

“I agree, but getting the two of them together could be a real challenge!  Is there a way to head off any potential fireworks?”

“I was thinking we could ask Señora Angostura to serve as mediator or facilitator. I imagine she would be very good at setting the right tone and getting things started on a positive note.”

“I hadn’t thought of that approach, but I believe it would work. Once again, Doc, you came up with a clever solution that makes total sense.  Would you talk to Señora Angostura; it would be less official than if I were to ask her?”

“I’ll make a point of it.  I assume you’ll talk to Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott.”

 

Dudley had been thinking about the Community Assistance Program and wanted to share some of his ideas with the Team, but was hesitant to appear to be trying to control their actions.  He decided a casual conversation with Beth Ford would be more appropriate and asked her to meet him for coffee in the Main Dining Room.  He began by talking about his own experiences with the State Water Resources Department.

“When I was involved with planning activities at the State, we sometimes found it helpful to step back and to understand the bigger picture.  We often got too intent on achieving a specific result that we lost sight of things. I’ve been watching the Team and am impressed by their overall enthusiasm and energy and the last thing I want to do is to inhibit that in any way. However, I don’t want us to move too quickly and find ourselves down the wrong path in a few months.  That would be a discouraging development.”

“I understand”, said Beth. “Sometimes, when we’re all together, things get moving pretty fast and I get a feeling that we get caught up in our combined enthusiasm and rush past important details. My goal is to have us focus on accomplishing a few relatively small tasks to establish trust and credibility in the community.  Things are changing very rapidly in the overall healthcare field and I want more than anything for us to be viewed as credible.  I can already see that there are an increasing number of questionable organizations trying to capitalize on the uncertainty of things and people’s general ignorance of how to proceed.”

“I share that same concern, Beth. My sense of things is that the particular conditions here in New Mexico provide too much opportunity for people to be taken advantage of.  So many people are in desperate need of healthcare which makes them easy targets for deception.”

“I have an idea about how our next Team meeting can be structured to decide on a relatively few specific objectives. And, I don’t think we’ve fully capitalized on the unique resource we have available to us through the La Vida Aureo Staff.  We talked to them initially, but it was a more general discussion.  I believe they have individual stories and experiences that would be invaluable to the Team at this point.”

“That is an excellent idea, Beth. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t think so, Doc.  The Staff has been more than willing to work with us and, of course, Señora Paloma is always available should we need her.  She makes sure we arrange our timing so as to not interfere with anyone’s schedule. But I want to emphasize that I’ve found this particular format of your coffee coaching very helpful and suggest we meet on a regular basis. Of course, that should not prevent you from sitting in on Team meetings anytime you wish.  The Team respects your viewpoints and you are always welcome.”

Dudley left the discussion with Beth Ford feeling more confident that he had been able to express his concerns without appearing to inhibit Beth or the Team in any way.  He was able to focus on the numerous maintenance requests that had been piling up in recent weeks.  He knew he had promised Isabella that he would talk to Paloma about Millicent Branch and Ynez Barela, but that could wait for a later time.

The next morning, the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Team met in one of the small meeting rooms near the main lobby.  The women were in good spirits and Mikaylah Willis seemed to be the center of attention. This pleased Beth and assured her that her intuition had been correct; Mikaylah would be a valuable addition to the Team. Once everyone settled into a seat around the table, Beth opened the meeting. “Let’s spend today developing a consensus about the major issues affecting what I will call our potential Market Opportunities.  As we’ve said before, our primary objective is to help people stay independent for as long as possible. To achieve that goal, I believe we should ask ourselves this question: What do people need to remain independent and preferably in their own home?”

There was active discussion of this question for over an hour with each Team member contributing and building on each other’s comments.  Everyone was making notes and Beth was trying to capture major themes on the whiteboard.  When the discussion seemed to pause, Beth said, “Let me try to summarize what we’ve been saying.” She moved to a clean whiteboard on another wall and wrote:

  • Safety in the home.
  • Regular, nutritious, healthy meals
  • Routine medical attention, including any necessary medications
    • Check-ups focused on prevention
  • Socialization, companionship

Beth stepped away from the board. “Is this what we’ve been saying? Are these the keys to personal independence?”

The Team seemed to briefly hesitate that it could be this straight-forward. Then Mikaylah spoke, “Mikey likes it!”  Everyone laughed and joined in with similar expressions of approval.

“OK”, said Beth.  “Can we identify existing organizations that could provide these elements and that we can assure ourselves are reputable and share our goal of achieving and maintaining personal independence?  If we can leverage existing resources, then it becomes a matter of information and education.”

“That should not be difficult”, offered Mila. “I’ve had experience with Meals on Wheels, for example, and that could certainly address the nutrition issue for anyone who has no other source. I know that they have several financial options as well which would be a benefit.”

“Good, Mila. That is exactly the type of organization I’m thinking of.  There is no need for us to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Our role is to make people aware of that type of resource. Now, the second question we should address is: Are there factors in the community that are trying to prevent this?”

Arnetta looked puzzled as she raised her hand. “Are you saying, Beth, that there are people and organizations that don’t want people to remain independent?”

“I know it may sound ridiculous, or like some imagined conspiracy, but that is exactly what I’m asking. If our focus is to help people remain independent through readily available resources, we also need to identify anyone with the opposite goal.  As a very simple example, someone selling wheelchairs would not want us to help a person remain ambulatory with a daily exercise routine.  I’m just suggesting that we be aware of unscrupulous people who see these same conditions as a huge opportunity.

“If I can expand on that, said Mikaylah, there is one potentially shady operation we need to watch carefully.  It seems like every time I drive across town to get here, I see another billboard advertising some sort of in-home health service.  It could be because the most recent one I saw was next to some ambulance-chasing attorney’s flashing billboard, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m not trusting enough, but I can’t believe all of these offer the level of care and quality that we’re advocating.”

“I’d like to offer another note of caution, added Minot.  So much health-related information is being put on the Internet, including the application forms and other sign-up-related paperwork.  Because many poorer folks don’t have internet access, they need some way to complete the sign-up process. In driving around town, I’m noticing lots of little store-front operations popping up that offer that assistance.  Maybe I’m just a bit suspicious, but I can’t believe that all of these are legitimate. I don’t have any suggestions right now, but I think we need to keep our eyes on this going forward.”

“Again, said Beth, I don’t want to appear paranoid.  We just need to stay alert as we go throughout the community and recognize that some activities may not be in the best interest of the people we’re trying to support.  I think we’ve covered a lot of ground today and I really appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm and input.  I think we have identified some short-term actions and I’m eager for our next meet to talk about what we’ve collectively learned.”

Mila turned to Arnetta and said, “Why don’t you and I spend the next few afternoons talking to the Staff when their shift is over and they’re waiting for their rides?  We can ask them about their experiences with their families and neighbors.  I’ll bet some of them have already taken steps to help their parents remain at home.  They probably can expand our understanding of the specific types of services and organizations that are available.”

“That sounds great, Mila.  I’ll stop and talk to Señora Angostura to make sure we’re not interfering and select a time that is most convenient.”

“I still have many friends at Pfizer, said Mikaylah and I’ll see what’s happening with medications these days.  With all the generic drugs that have become available, I’m sure the situation is constantly changing.  And, I want to inquire about the role of these so-called Pharmacy Benefits Managers.  It seems like they are playing an ever-increasing role as middle-men between drug companies, physicians and patients.”

Minot remained quiet and at her seat until everyone had left.  “Is there something troubling you?” asked Beth.

“I didn’t want to say too much in front of the Team, but with all of this personal information being made available, your fears of potential trouble may be the most important aspect of things. I’d like to do some research and see if there’s a way we can gather background information about any organization we recommend or support. I’d hate for us to get blind-sided if an organization shows up on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal with its Owner in handcuffs!”

“I agree, Minot. I want to keep the Team focused on all of the positive things we can do, but I share your concern.  I plan to discuss this issue in depth during my next meeting with Mr. Dudley.”

 

Chapter 4: A Cause for Concern

Beth Ford was pleased with the Team and their progress. Her confidence in the individual Team members grew with each meeting and she continued to be impressed with their knowledge and initiative.  She was particularly pleased with the most recent meeting and felt they had an improved focus and direction.  She would relay this perspective to Dudley, but really wanted to voice her concerns.

Matthew Dudley was at his usual spot in the Dining Room the next morning and appeared deeply engrossed in the Wall Street Journal.  As Beth approached, he looked up and smiled broadly.  “You know, Beth, for a publication that is supposed to be all about Serious Business, they often have very clever and insightful pieces on other topics.  I was just reading an article entitled Designer Genes when you walked up.  I just glanced at the title and my mind tricked me into thinking it was about using Levi’s Jeans as a form of currency, which I’ve seen in some places in the State; it’s can be a status symbol, or in barter situations, etc.  When I looked again, I realized it was an in-depth article about the progress in gene therapy and how individual genes can be modified, designed, to accomplish a specific purpose.  Sorry. Please have a seat and let me get you a cup of coffee.”

“I’d actually prefer tea if there is some hot water available.’

“I’m sure there’s some in the kitchen and I know where Señora Angostura keep a supply of herbal teas.  I’ll be right back.”

As she sipped her tea, Beth summarized the most recent Team meeting and her growing confidence in their direction and progress.  “I want to discuss an area of concern that I believe could have a major impact on our overall effectiveness. Basically, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more people will be seeking healthcare, which is a good thing.  But, because the overall market for all forms of healthcare will be expanding, I am concerned that the sheer magnitude of the situation will invite potentially unscrupulous parties to get involved and take advantage of people.”

Dudley stared deeply into his coffee cup and without looking up said, “I am pleased that our Congress finally passed legislation that makes healthcare available to more people, but, as usual, I don’t think they thought things through.  And, in my opinion, they certainly did not consider all of the unintended consequences of this sweeping Act.  One stated goal was that more people would seek primary care from a physician instead of going to the Emergency Room as their first stop for any issue.  That would involve changing the behavior of lots of people which is a formidable task in itself. But, assuming that happens, I fear that the system will quickly become overwhelmed due to a shortage of primary care physicians.  Too few young men and women are going into primary care and the situation of primary care for seniors is even more critical.  If the system does become overloaded and people cannot get to a primary care physician in a timely manner, frustration will drive them back to the Emergency Room or to not seek care at all.  The notion of prevention would be lost, more people would suffer chronic illnesses which ultimately results in increased costs for everyone.”

“I do not believe that I am that clever or perceptive and that others have come to a similar view of the future.  The obvious conclusion is that there is a significant market and financial opportunity and there is evidence that some companies are already moving to establish a position.  For example, both Walgreen’s and CVS have expanded their traditional stores and are now offering what looks a lot like limited primary care services.  Some of the major local hospitals are building satellite facilities throughout the community to reach more people and, I suspect, try to keep them out of the Emergency Room!  These positive actions will hopefully fill what I perceive as a growing need or void in services.”

“On the other side of the coin, these potentially large and profitable market opportunities have also been noticed by people and organizations with shall-we-say less charitable intentions.  With more people seeking medical attention and with so many newer options available, like CVS’s Minute Clinic, it will become easier to set up a variety of fraudulent operations that look perfectly reputable.  I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic, but I can see a great many people being taken advantage of.  Not only would they not get proper medical attention, but their personal information could be stolen as well as their money.  Perhaps I am still thinking of the situation with Mrs. Arthur and how she was deceived, but one of the basic tenets of the Affordable Care Act is the massive collection and use of information.  Have you been to the doctor lately?  They used to sit and talk to you, but now they seem preoccupied with typing everything into their laptop computer.”

“My other major concern and why I view the Team’s work so important has to do with the looming crises in care for seniors.  I fear that there are too many people in the Baby Boomer group with too little money set aside for their later years. I see a dramatic increase in the construction of all sorts of senior living situations.  But, the large number of people who will want to live in these places will be significantly larger than the spaces available, particularly at prices that many can afford.  Once again, there will be a large unmet need in the marketplace and all sorts of organizations will emerge to provide housing for seniors.  As we mentioned with basic healthcare, some of these so-called providers will be less than reputable and some of these retirement homes may be not much better than the horrible institutions of the past.”

“I apologize, Beth, I didn’t mean to go off on such a rant. It’s just that sometimes, the magnitude of the situation overwhelms me.”

“No need to apologize, Mr. Dudley. I see a similar situation developing, although perhaps not as draconian as you.  I can also understand why you are so passionate about the Team and our work.  Are there any specific actions you want to present to the Team?”

“Please don’t get me wrong, Beth.  I believe that the Team is off to a great start and I would not change anything.  I am also certain that the Team will have an impact and that’s really all anyone could ask for.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence. I encourage you to sit in on our next meeting.  We are gathering some very specific information and I hope it will provide even more focus for our next steps.”

 

A few days later, the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Team gathered discuss the information they had learned in their interviews.

Mikaylah Willis spoke first.  “Well, I went to visit some of my friends at Pfizer and I can tell you that even a powerful pharmaceutical company like Pfizer sees the healthcare environment changing more rapidly than they ever anticipated.  They are much too professional to admit that they are scared, but my impression is that they are scrambling to stay ahead of the game.  I noticed a large increase in the number of Marketing-type people on the local staff as well as the HUGE number of patent attorneys.  These folks are doing everything possible to keep their current money-making drugs generating cash.  They talk about the perceived threats to their dominant market position from generic drugs and the increasing power of the Pharmacy Benefits Manager organizations.  Traditionally, big pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have focused on the development of blockbuster drugs, but the field has become so diversified and specialized and they are struggling to adapt. The emergence of these smaller bio-tech firms have dramatically impacted how the market works and the kind of drug therapies now available.  Obviously, Pfizer has an active program to acquire these firms that can quickly advance their work in a specific field.”

“I don’t believe that companies in the Big Pharma category can be a resource to our efforts, but I believe more firmly than ever that we must understand how these Pharmacy Benefits Managers operate.  They are the ones putting pressure on the drug companies to lower drug costs which is consistent with our goals.  It is interesting that both CVS and Walgreen’s are major players in that area which is further evidence of their growing importance to us.”

At this point, the door of the conference room opened and Matthew Dudley walked in carrying a large tray. “I brought fresh coffee, some hot water for tea and a plate of fresh pastries for the Team.  I don’t want to see your energy level drop, so I thought some caffeine and sugar would help!”

Everyone laughed, welcomed Dudley and encouraged him to join the discussion.  “I’ll just sit quietly in the back and listen if you all don’t mind.  These pastries are from my friend Guzman at his Saville & Sons shop in Old Town. If I nibble on one, I promise to not interfere with your meeting.  Please carry on.”

Arnetta Valencia was a soft-spoken person and the room got quiet so that no one missed a word. “Mila and I spent several afternoons visiting with the Staff which proved to be quite informative.”  She turned to Dudley. “I think I can speak for the entire Team to thank you for arranging the opportunity to talk openly with the Staff. They are a remarkable group and their experiences and insights are invaluable to the Team.  I want to report on one specific topic and then let Mila talk about a rather disturbing bit of information.”

“Several members of the Staff told stories about how a seeming minor accident in the home completely transformed a parent’s life, and for the worse. An injury that probably didn’t require surgery was the beginning of a prolonged downward spiral in the quality of life.  The injury resulted in a lack of exercise and mobility, which led to significant weight gain, which in turn triggered a host of health problems.  In hind sight, it would have been relatively easy to make simple modifications to the home to minimize the occurrence of these accidents, typically falls.  Stairs could be clearly marked, furniture rearranged, etc. I am more convinced than ever that our focus on accident prevention in the home would allow more people to remain at home and fully independent for much longer.’

“I am encouraged by what I learned and have been invited back to talk with the Staff to actively explore all the things that can be done in this regard. Together, we see this as a Workshop or even a Laboratory to try out all sorts of ideas.”

“I learned a great deal as well, added Mila Espalin, but am confused by much of what I heard.  I’ll just report to the Team and maybe someone can help me understand what I heard.”

“I talked to two women who had similar experiences.  It turned out that one of the women, Luna, is actually my second cousin and I know her parents very well.  In each case, their parents wanted to gain access to the healthcare they heard about on TV. While shopping, they were approached by someone sitting at a card table just outside the store.  The two instances occurred in different parts of town and at different types of stores, but were almost identical.  The person who approached them said she could help them sign up because she knew the process was confusing.  So the parents sat down and proceeded to answer a series of questions and, in the process, provided very detailed personal information.   They answered questions about their health history as well as numerous questions about their financial situation and arrangements.”

“That sounds very suspicious to me,” interjected Mikaylah.  “Were these women sure that their parents had not just been victims of identity theft?”

“They were most certainly concerned,” continued Mila. “But, after this first encounter, nothing happened.  Each family got a card in the mail that looked official and a form letter that stated that they were now “registered with the Affordable Care Act and enrolled in the System”.  When I probed further, both women from the Staff said that they had looked over their parents’ bank statements to see if there were any charges that could not be explained.  For one family, that was pretty easy since they do not use a bank.  They remain distrustful of all banks and handle everything in cash or by barter. And, I know from personal experience that there’s actually quite a bit of that in the City. For the second family, there were no charges that could not be explained.”

“Both families are relatively healthy and did not make use of their new opportunities for healthcare.  With many of the older people here, they are just as distrustful of doctors and hospitals as they are of banks.  They rely to a great extent on herbal medicines provided by a local curandera.  Now, here’s the interesting part and what I really don’t understand.  At the end of every calendar quarter, they would get a statement showing all of their medical expenses for the previous three months.  This included doctors’ visits, prescription medicines, medical equipment like oxygen tanks, etc., etc. But neither family had actually used any of these goods or services, none at all! They weren’t charged for anything; the statement simply said that everything was covered by insurance.”

“That is most unusual”, said Beth.  “Did either family report these discrepancies, or tell their daughters?”

“No. The families, usually the husband, said that this just proved how screwed up the Government was and they either filed the statements or just threw them away.  They assumed that the insurance company would eventually straighten things out.  Besides, they weren’t actually being charged for anything so there was no incentive to pursue the matter. The daughters I spoke to only learned of this months later in sort of a general family discussion.”

“From your description of things, Mila, I find this all very suspicious,” offered Beth.  “You worked for the State Department of Health; did you ever see anything like this during your time there?”

“No. We received extensive training about the confidentiality of personal and health information that is covered under HIPPA.  I see no reason why anyone would ask for this type of information, particularly not while sitting at a card table at the shopping center!”

Minot spoke up. “I’ve been doing some checking with the Chamber of Commerce and other sources and it appears that there are a lot of new businesses in Albuquerque offering a similar service.  Most of these are small store fronts located in a strip mall with medical or insurance-sounding names.  Virtually all of them say they are an authorized agency under the Affordable Care Act and their sole purpose is to help people sign up for the healthcare benefits to which they are now entitled.  Personally, I think it’s a bunch of crap, if you’ll pardon my French.”

“I believe any such organization would have to at least apply to the State Department of Health to qualify under the Act as “authorized”, said Mila. “I can check that out, but I tend to agree with Minot; this sounds a bit fishy to me.”

“Let’s stop there for today,” interjected Beth. “Mikaylah and Arnetta have provided us with some very significant information and there are certainly things we can do on both issues.  It sounds like the Home Safety issue is one where we could have a major beneficial impact.  Let’s think about how to move forward with that initiative.  Arnetta, would you take the lead on that?

“I’d be happy to, but I’m sure I’ll need some help as we move forward.”

“OK,” said Beth.  Does anyone have anything else they want to add?  Mr. Dudley?  If not, let’s continue with our respective tasks and plan to get together again next Monday, same time, same place.  Mr. Dudley, we appreciate the pastries and would certainly welcome you and them again!”

 

As everyone was leaving, Beth stopped Minot and together they caught up with Dudley in the hallway outside the conference room.  “Can the three of us go back to the conference room for a moment?”

As soon as they were all inside the room, Beth closed the door and said, “Well, Doc, what did you think of Mila’s report?”

“Well, she worked for DOH and I know they were constantly reminded about the privacy restrictions in the HIPPA law.  If she finds it confusing that there are people out there in the community asking people for this kind of information, then I agree with Minot.  If it looks like crap and smells like crap, then it probably IS crap!”

“I agree. Here’s what I suggest.  You and I should visit several of these store front operations and pretend to be interesting in signing up my aging mother, your wife, for healthcare benefits and see what happens.  I propose we select places in different parts of town to see if there are any similarities in approach. I can get my husband to go with me to a few more places with essentially the same premise and see if it’s any different.  What do you think?”

“While Dudley was considering Beth’s proposal, Minot spoke up.  “It’s hard for me to believe that all of these are independent operations. I’ll be interested to see if you guys get similar results at different places.  I suspect they may all be operating off a standard script.  And, while you’re out playing Secret Shopper, I think I’ll spend some time trying to dig a bit deeper into any registration or other official filings that these so-called services have made. I know how to make Google search for things that aren’t generally obvious.”

“I’m a bit hesitant to be deceptive, said Dudley, but I don’t have a better way of gathering the information.  You do know, Beth, that my wife is dead?”

“So’s my mother. Now we can be true co-conspirators!  I’ll meet you in the Dining Room tomorrow morning about 10, if that’s OK.”

 

As they parted, Minot knew that there was someone who really new how to extract information from Google as well as other sources. She composed a text. “Emily, I have a project to challenge your skills.  Wine at your place at 8?”

 

 

Chapter 5: Mystery Shopping and Snooping

Matthew Dudley went to the Dining Room early the following morning.  He needed to talk to Señora Angostura before Beth arrived.  He was still reading the Wall Street Journal when Paloma emerged from the kitchen drying her hands on a dish towel.

“Señor Doc, it is always good to see you each morning.  It reassures me that somethings in life remain consistent and dependable. How are you today?”

“I am well, thank you, Señora. I have a very busy day ahead of me and will be away from the premises for much of it.  I wanted to talk to you and ask your advice on a delicate matter.”

“You know you can always talk openly with me.”

“The situation surrounding Mrs. Arthur’s murder affected many people here and particularly Mrs. Branch.  She puts on a brave face, but I suspect it is just to cover up just how sad she is inside.  I wish there were something we could do for her.”

“Do you think there are others here who are also hiding their true feelings.”

“I was thinking of Señora Barela.”

Paloma smiled. “I am pleased that you are becoming sensitive to people’s true nature.  I guess there are benefits of not living alone after all.”

“You are correct, as always, Señora,” Dudley admitted grudgingly. “Can you think of a way that we could get the two of them together to perhaps begin to build a friendship?”

“If you are asking me if I would arrange that, I would be happy to do it.  You are also becoming more subtle in your requests, Señor. Just so you know, I have invited both ladies to my kitchen to help me with menus for the Summer.  I believe both have something to contribute and it will be an opportunity to get to know each other better.”

“I apologize for trying to appear devious, Señora.  I should know by now to be direct with you.  You are much too perceptive for my feeble attempts.”

“Paloma gave Dudley an all-knowing look. I take no offense, Señor Doc. But, you must now do something for me and I will be very direct. You are no doubt aware that Señora Duncan has made a proposal to Mr. Blackburn and Ms. Elliott about their contracts and desired living arrangements.  They are pleased and will certainly accept.  That is a good outcome for everyone.  But, I would like you to speak candidly and forcefully to Señor Ramirez about his behavior toward Ms. Elliott.  Despite her repeated rejections of his advances, he refuses to take No for an answer.  He insists that she is just playing hard-to-get. It is time for him to stop bothering her altogether and I believe you are the appropriate person to deliver that message.  If not, I will have to ask Francisco to talk to him and that is not something I wish to do.”

“I understand completely, Señora.  You have my word that I will handle this.  There is no need to involve Lt. Garcia; he has more important things to attend to.”

Dudley and Paloma continued to exchange general pleasantries until Beth Ford arrived.  “I must be off, Señora.  You can be assured that I will speak to our Resident Romeo at soon as possible.  Buenos dias.”
Beth Ford had compiled a list of places to visit based on the initial information Minot Atkinson had developed.  She and Matthew Dudley stopped in the first place late that morning.  Dudley was uncomfortable with their deception and Beth took the lead.  The Medical Counselor at the first facility was dressed professionally despite the rather shabby appearance of the office and strip mall location. Her approach was courteous and thorough and she handled the difficult inquiries about personal and financial information with tact.  As Beth answered each question, the Counselor entered everything into a computer terminal on her desk.  After almost forty-five minutes of intense questioning, the Counselor said, “Well, that completes the information, Mrs. Jones.  It will take a few days for the State and Federal Governments to process things.  You will be hearing from us in the very near future.  I’m sure your aging mother will be greatly relieved to know that all of her future medical needs will be met.  Thank you again for choosing ACA Assist and coming by this morning.”

Beth suggested they stop for a light lunch as they got in her car.  “That way, we can review our first meeting and assess how we’re doing.  Is that agreeable with you?”

They ate quietly for a few minutes before Dudley said, “Beth, I know we are trying to understand what is actually happening with these so-called Agencies, but I am still a bit uncomfortable with the deception.”

“That is certainly understandable, Doc. It is for me as well.  I keep reminding myself, however, that our suspicion is that these Agencies are involved in a much greater level of deception and most likely with some of the most vulnerable people in our community.  That thought gives me the strength to do whatever I have to do to get to the bottom of this.  We’re committed to helping people and if we can prevent them from being taken advantage of, then I’m OK with what we’re doing.”

“Thank you, Beth.  What is the next location on our list?

For the next several hours Matthew Dudley and Beth Ford drove around Albuquerque and stopped in a variety of places which offered to assist people enroll in the healthcare systems provided through the Affordable Care Act.  At each, location, they became more efficient and more direct in their approach and questioning.   Late in the afternoon, they stopped in front of a store front in a strip mall with a large neon sign overhead that read ACA Insurance Associates.  They went in and were greeted by a well-dressed young man who introduced himself as a Certified Insurance Counselor. He offered them a bottle of water and directed them to a small cubicle.

The interview progressed much as the previous ones with a similar format and almost identical information requests.  Suddenly, Dudley stood up, motioned to Beth and said quite angrily, “Let’s get out of here.  I see no reason why this man has to ask all of these personal questions.  Why does he have to have all of this information?  I am very uncomfortable with telling this perfect stranger the most intimate details about my wife and our personal finances!”

It took Beth a moment to recover from Dudley’s outburst, but she quickly regained her composure and said, “Now, calm down, Father. I know this is a very trying time for you with all of Mother’s problems and the mounting medical bills, but this gentleman is just trying to help.  Please sit down and allow him to complete the interview.”

“Oh, alright, but I still don’t see why he has to have all of this information.”

The Counselor smiled and said, “I understand completely, Sir.  I personally find it very difficult and confusing at times myself.  I had many of the same questions when I was going through the training program to become certified. My understanding is that all of these questions are specified in the Act and that any omissions would cause your application to be rejected.  But, let me assure you that we do not share any of your information with any other Agency and that our computer network has the very latest security software.  If you’ll bear with me a few more minutes, we’re almost through.”

Beth could hardly contain herself, but waited until they had driven a few blocks before she pulled over. “I could kiss you!  That was brilliant!  Despite your outburst, that young man remained perfectly calm and simply waited you out. I think it is fair to say that we are dealing with a very sophisticated operation and that these so-called Counselors are well-trained, to say the least. I can understand why the information requests would be standard; that could be dictated by the Act. But, that wouldn’t explain why each of the Counselors we met used essentially the same script in dealing with us.”

“I do apologize for my outburst, but that young man just appeared too smooth for my taste.  My skin started to crawl and I just couldn’t contain myself any longer.”

“Well, it certainly provided us a deeper insight to the sophistication of this operation.  We still have no way to actually prove that these individual offices are connected other than our intuition.  Hopefully, Minot will discover something in her research.”

“I have several important repair projects that I must attend to tomorrow, but I’m available on Thursday if you would like to visit a few more places.  I suggest we try some different neighborhoods as well.  My sense of things is that these people will focus on the less educated and those who probably never had any form of health insurance.  If you agree, why don’t you pick a few places from Minot’s list and we’ll see what we learn.”

“That makes sense, Doc. And, if there is any connection between these places, waiting a day or two might cause something to develop.  I’ll pick you up at ten on Thursday.”

 

Dudley and Beth spent most of Thursday afternoon visiting several more so-called Agencies. When they stopped for gas at an Allsup’s station, Dudley noticed a stack of flyers on the counter as he paid for two bottles of water.   They were for a place in the neighborhood called ACA-R-Us.  “We have to go to this place,” he said as he got back in Beth’s car.  I’m almost afraid of what we’ll find and we may be over-dressed, but let’s do this one more and call it a day.”

The ACA-R-Us Agency was located a few blocks away in a strip mall. The office was a small store front situated between a Nail Salon and Title Loan Company.  “On second thought,” said Dudley, maybe this would not be necessary.  And, I’m not sure I could contain myself to sit through the entire interview.  I think we’ve seen enough in the past two days.  Our task now is to figure out what to do with what we’ve seen and heard.”

“Thank you.  I don’t think I could have handled this one either.  If you have no objection, I’d like to visit some of the Agencies in Rio Rancho over the weekend.    I’ve bribed my husband with a fancy dinner out and we can pose as a couple trying to enroll an aging parent.  We may even see what happens when we try to enroll ourselves.”

 

With a minimum of grumbling, Doug Ford accompanied Beth on their mystery shopping tour on Saturday. Their premise was that they wanted to enroll Doug’s mother in one of the programs available through ACA.  At the second site, they also asked about enrolling themselves since they claimed to be unemployed at the present.  At each location, the information format was nearly identical to what Beth and Dudley had experienced.  At their last scheduled visit, things got a bit complicated.  The Counselor did not greet them with the same sense of grace they had experienced previously.  In fact, she took a more aggressive approach almost immediately.  “It looks like you have already enrolled your Mother, Mr. Jones. I’m sure you’re aware that each person can only enroll once.  I hope you’re not trying to pull one over on us!”

Doug Ford was taken aback and wasn’t sure how to respond. Beth stepped in and touched him arm. “I’ll bet Father took our advice and enrolled Mother on his own.  I suspect he got tired of my nagging and got up from the TV and did the right thing.”

“Yeah. I’ll bet that’s what happened.  Sorry for the confusion.  We’ll be on our way. Thanks for catching that.  We wouldn’t want to try to fool the system, now, would we?”

As they drove away and toward Bernalillo, Doug looked over at Beth and smiled. “Damn, you’re good.  You’re a lot faster on your toes than I am! Let’s head over to The Range and I’ll buy dinner.”

“I still love you, Big Guy, even if you are a bit slow.  But, that proves something to me; these various Agencies are somehow connected.  I doubt seriously that any actual government-run program could connect the dots that quickly.”

Beth sat back in her seat and began to relax for the short drive into Bernalillo. Suddenly she sat up and pointed out the window. “Damn! Doc was right. There’s another Agency and it looks like it’s operating out of a van in front of the Casino!  These folks are really targeting the people who are most susceptible to this type of outright fraud.”

 

Minot enjoyed spending time with Emily Chang; she was intelligent and had a totally wicked sense of humor which delighted Minot.  Tonight, however, Minot was in a much more serious mood and was becoming increasingly concerned about what she had uncovered in her research.  But, she had not been able to access the information she wanted; everything seemed to be buried under layers of various organizational structure and ownership.

Emily picked up on Minot’s mood almost immediately. “OK, Sunshine, do you want to tell me what has your knickers in a knot or are you just going to sit there and be a snotty bitch all evening?”

Minot began with Mila’s report and then described her own investigations into the various agencies that had recently opened shop around Albuquerque.  “I am convinced, Emily, that there is something going on here.  My best guess is that this is a coordinated effort to steal identities from lots of unsuspecting people.  They are being told that they are signing up for healthcare benefits, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening at all. It’s really just a simple scam to steal identities.  Two things frustrate me.  One, my gut tells me that all or most of these operations are part of one larger organization, but I cannot seem to discover the connection.  Second, what really has me baffled is why the information hasn’t been used.  The families Mila interviewed said that there were no erroneous charges to their accounts, no mysterious withdrawals, etc.  Nothing!  In fact, one family didn’t even have a bank account or credit card; they did everything in cash. All that shows up is that each family appears to have used a large amount of medical services and equipment, which is also false.”

“Maybe, suggested Emily, the bad guys are just accumulating information and plan to use it later.  Or, they may be reselling it to some Nigerian Prince or Russian Oligarch for an entirely different type of scam.  There are lots of possible explanations.”

“I guess those are possibilities, but it’s a stretch, in my opinion.”

“Tell me again about these charges for medical equipment and services.”

“Both families said that they received quarterly statements for all of the services and equipment they used in the previous quarter.  But, in each case, neither family had used anything, no doctors’ visits, no wheelchairs, no oxygen tanks, nothing.  The statement said that everything was covered by insurance so the families just ignored it and assumed that the system was screwed up.”

“Well, as we know only too well, it is entirely possible for the system to be screwed up or account numbers confused, or any other of a host of bureaucratic nonsense. Why don’t you let me do some research on my own into these various organizations. I have ways of digging deeper into corporate records and filings and may be able to uncover some things that are not so obvious.  Have no fear, my Dear, I will find something.  In the meantime, why don’t you relax and let go of this for a while. Just open that delightful bottle of wine you brought.”

Minot tried to focus her attention on the other tasks that the Team had asked her to pursue, but she remained troubled.  One afternoon, while staring at her computer, she received a text message on her phone. “Meet me for coffee at The Flying Star on Central near UNM, Em.” Minot dropped what she was doing and hurried into town.   She found Emily Chang sitting at a table near the windows facing Central Avenue.

“I can tell you, began Emily, that most of the organizations on your list are connected and the trail seems to lead back to a single source.  The trail is very, very well disguised with multiple layers of organization and ownership, etc. There are even more so-called agencies involved, but I believe there is something more. I just cannot get past the very sophisticated web that has been created to hide things. And, I still can’t figure out why the information is being collected in the first place.”

“So, you’ve confirmed my suspicion that there’s something fishy going on.  That is reassuring, but how can we find out what is behind all of this?  People don’t just collect personal confidential and not do anything with it.”

Emily smiled. “I think it’s time to call The Doctor.”

“What? Don’t tell me this little project has made you ill.”

“No. Let me tell you a story that’s before your time and mine for that matter, but I’m sure you are aware of the urban legend that Microsoft actually started here in Albuquerque.”

“I’ve heard that story, but I’ve always dismissed it as just that, urban legend.”

“Well, Bill Gates and his original team were holed up in a motel here on Central writing code back in 1977. The story goes that Gates was arrested for some minor traffic BS; you can even Google his mug shot.  Anyway, they packed it in and headed west to Washington; except for one guy who stayed.  Over the years, he became completely invisible. For all intents and purposes, he doesn’t exist; he’s that far underground. Completely off the grid.  He exists only by legend and no one even knows his name; he’s simply referred to as The Doctor.  Without going into any detail, he and I became acquainted several years ago during a project of mutual interest.  If anyone can trace this trail back to its ultimate source or sources, it is him.  I think a call to him would be appropriate at this point.”

“Wow. I’d like to introduce him to the Team or at least Beth Ford.  Can you arrange a meeting?’

“No can do.  In fact, if I tell you any more, I’d have to kill you!”

“C’mon Em, you can trust me.”

“That’s not the point.  You’ll just have to trust me and forget we ever talked about this.  Minot, I believe in what you’re doing and I also believe you’ve stumbled onto something much bigger than you can imagine. Let me handle this.  I promise to tell you anything and everything that affects your work and the Community Assist initiative.  Gotta go.”

Minot Atkinson sat at the table for a long while.  She hadn’t touched the coffee or the pastry Emily had bought for her.  She trusted Emily Chang explicitly, but could not help but wonder what she had meant by something bigger than you can imagine.   It was not unlike Emily to have an air of intrigue about her, but her reference to this mysterious character called The Doctor was both exciting and disturbing.  Minot realized that she had no choice but to wait for Emily’s call, which she knew would come … eventually.

 

 

 

Chapter 6: The Doctor Is In

The La Vida Aureo Community Assist Team gathered for their weekly meeting with more excitement and anticipation than usual.  Each team member had been busy during the previous week and they were all eager to share their progress. They were not surprised to find a large tray of pastries on a table at the rear of the conference room.

Mikaylah Willis began by telling the Team that her exploratory discussions with Walgreen’s and CVS regarding prescription medications had gone very well.  “Although neither company came right out and said it in so many words, it is apparent to me that they are moving, albeit cautiously, to fill the growing gap for primary care.  They are willing to talk with us further as we develop a more detailed description of exactly how we could partner.  I am pleased with their cooperation.”

Arnetta Valencia was next and could hardly contain her enthusiasm.  “I spoke at length with more members of the Staff about home safety. I believe our initial conversations a few weeks ago have made it through the entire Sopapilla Network. Nearly all of the Staff want to be part of a test program and are more than willing to try different things in their homes and those of their parents.  I see it as a large-scale workshop from which we will gain lots of valuable information.  One of the women also mentioned that she had heard of a local volunteer organization that would make minor repairs and modifications for needy families.  I plan to check that out early next week.  Oh, I almost forgot.  I have a meeting with the local Meals on Wheels chapter later this month.”

Mila Espalin was fidgeting in her chair. “I keep hearing stories about these so-called insurance agencies getting people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.  Was anyone able to find out whether this is legitimate or not?

“Yes, Mila, we have learned quite a bit since our last meeting,” replied Beth Ford.  Without belaboring the ugly details, it is certain that the vast majority of these are phony.  I think the prudent course of action is to advise anyone who asks, that ALL of these are probably suspicious, if not completely bogus and should be avoided!”

Minot Atkinson spoke up. “What Beth says is absolutely true. We should assume that this is not a legitimate activity.  I’m still trying to understand what’s behind this.  I simply have not been able to figure out why this information is being collected and then not used.   I know that something else is going on and I am determined to find out!”

“I’m really glad to hear that,” said Mila. “It looks like my friends at the Department of Health have finally addressed this problem.  It is so frustrating to know that it takes them so long to do anything.  Gotta love the bureaucracy!  Anyway, the State has finally begun establishing the systems to sign people up for insurance under the Act.  There will be offices throughout the State and they promised that their website will be operational by the end of the week.  So, people should be able to enroll, either on-line or by going into one of these offices.”

“Are they aware of these other operations,” asked Beth?

“I don’t think so.  I probed a bit, but they seem so tied up in their own activity, I doubt they’ve had time to look up.  They have been under a lot of pressure for taking so long to get operational. But, at least they’re finally getting involved.”

“What do you think will happen to these bogus insurance operations,” asked Mikaylah.

Matthew Dudley had been sitting quietly in the back of the room listening intently to the conversation. “If the State Department of Health is unaware of their existence, it may take some time to discover them.  I only hope someone files a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.  That might get something started.  In the meantime, I agree with the Team; we must caution everyone we can to avoid these charlatans.  I don’t think it’s in our best interest to pursue this; we have much more important things to focus on, as is evident from your reports this morning.  Good job all around, Team.”

I have no intention of letting this drop,” Minot though to herself.  “Emily hinted that there was something much larger involved and I know she’ll get back to me with more information.  But, the waiting is killing me!”

 

Minot tried to stay busy, but the hours and days just seemed to drag on.  She had decided to go for an extra-long run and push herself to exhaustion. Maybe that would clear her mind.  Just as she was heading out the door of her apartment, her phone buzzed with a text message: “Dinner? Your choice. My treat. Em.”

Although Minot Atkinson was born in North Dakota, she had readily adapted to New Mexico and particularly the food.  She sent a text back: “Los Cuates on Lomas. Tonight at 7. M.”

Minot was so eager to learn what Emily Chang had to report she nearly got a speeding tickect as she headed west on Lomas Boulevard. Fortunately, the cop chose to stop the idiot who had cut her off as she sped through a yellow-red light.  Emily was already seated at a booth in the back of the restaurant. No sooner had Minot sat down than a waited appeared with the largest margarita she had ever seen.

“When I said, My Treat, I assumed you’d pick some fancy place in Santa Fe.  But, since you chose Los Cuates, also one of my favorites, I opted to treat you to the most expensive Tequila in the house. Drink up, my dear Minot.”

“OK. Thanks. But, why is this your treat?  I should be the one treating you for helping me out.  I assume we’re both talking about that little health insurance issue?”

“Yes. But, it’s my treat because you provided me the opportunity of a lifetime. I actually got to watch The Doctor work. I spent several nights at his place, totally in awe of what I witnessed. His reputation doesn’t begin to describe his skills.”

“OK, OK, so what did he find out?”

“That’s the other reason for my generosity this evening; I can’t tell you.  I told you last time that I thought you had stumbled onto something important.  Boy, was that an understatement!  You were correct to assume that the key was the information and that the facts didn’t point to the usual purpose of identity theft.  You told me that some of the families didn’t even have a bank account or credit card.  That pointed me in a different direction, but it was The Doctor who uncovered the truth.  That’s really all I can tell you. He took a huge risk by even letting me see his operation, but I’ve helped him out in the past with some sensitive issues. “

“Now what?  I’m just supposed to forget about all this?”

“Not at all, my Dear.  Knowing you, I’m sure by now you’ve convinced the Team that these local operations are phony and that people should avoid them like the plague.  That’s really all you can do.  I’m not sure how this will eventually play out, but I can assure you that a very bright light is about to shine. I suggest you watch the TV news and read the Journal.  You will be pleased with things.  But, remember, you and I never talked about this; you’ve never heard of anyone called The Doctor; you know nothing! Now, let’s have a couple more of these very tasty margaritas; we have cause to celebrate.”

 

Lieutenant Francisco “Frank” Garcia was at his desk going through the large stack of files in front of him.  This was the part of being a policeman that he liked least.  In fact, he wished that this aspect of his job would just go away, or that someone else could do it for him. The Mayor and Police Commissioner has approached him several times in recent months and encouraged him to apply for the Captain’s rank.  He was painfully aware that the City was looking for some new blood in senior positions of the Department because of all the recent problems and the Department of Justice investigation.  They had tried to convince Frank that he was an ideal candidate, not only because of his record of success as a detective, but also his positive image in the community.  Frank’s police record was spotless and he remained active in youth programs and other forms of community service.  But, Frank realized that a promotion would essentially remove him from the detective work he loved and burden him with even more paperwork.  No, he thought, I’m happy right here!

Frank’s thoughts were interrupted by Sergeant Hogan, the Duty Officer, who entered the office carrying a dozen large stem red roses.  “Some kid just showed up at the front desk and said these were for you.  Are you keeping secrets from the guys in the Squad Room, Lieutenant?”

“There must be some mistake”, replied Garcia. These can’t possibly be for me.”

“Well, the card says Lt. Garcia and you’re the only one of those around here.”

With a huge smile on his face, Sgt. Hogan handed the roses to Garcia and turned to leave. “You know, Frank, if you ever want to talk about it, I’m sure there’s someone in Personnel who would be more than happy to listen to your version of the story.”

Garcia was still at a loss to explain this gift, but decided to open the card.  There was a hand-written, actually hand-printed, note on the card which simply said:  Happy Hunting, followed by the initials MD. Enclosed in the envelope was a small flash drive.  This made Garcia even more suspicious about the origin of the flowers and the purpose of the flash drive. He sat back in his chair and tried to think about the initials, MD.  His first thought was “Why would Matthew Dudley send me flowers and why would he use a flash drive to communicate with me?”  Garcia took what he decided was the obvious next step and inserted the flash drive into his computer.

A long list of files appeared, but the file names were just a series of letters and numbers, probably some sort of code.  He noticed a small file named READ ME and realized that whoever had sent the drive wanted him to start there. When the document opened, Garcia saw a picture of a pyramid consisting of several layers stacked on top of one another.  There was text within each layer and much of it was too small to read because there was so much of it.  Garcia enlarged his screen and began to read the text in the bottom-most layer; each was the name of a person or organization. When he clicked on a name, it opened another file on the drive.  Now he was looking at detailed financial and business records. He clicked on another name in a higher level/layer of the picture. Again, it opened a separate file with pages of products, shipments, receipts, etc.  He assumed that all of these names were somehow related or inter-connected, but it wasn’t immediately apparent to him.

As Garcia sat back in his chair to reflect on what he had been looking at, it was obvious that it had taken a considerable amount of digging to amass the amount and detail of the information contained on the flash drive.  It was also obvious that the information was the type that someone would not want to see disclosed.  Garcia slapped his forehead.  “It’s a pyramid, dummy! Whoever dug up all of this information is telling me that there is a huge pyramid scheme operating in the City in the healthcare business.  I don’t know where this information came from, but it looks like someone hacked into a bunch of personal computers to create this picture.”

Garcia quickly realized that the MD signature could not possibly be Matthew Dudley.  Although Dudley had led him to the computer link that broke the case of Martha Arthur’s murder (Case VII, April 2015), Garcia knew that this was much more sophisticated and probably criminal in nature.  Marco!  It must be Marco Darco, the only person Garcia knew with the technical computer skills to have hacked into personal computers and dig out, organize and analyze this kind of confidential information.  Marco was known only to a few trusted people for his considerable expertise and then only as “MD” or simply The Doctor.

Lt. Garcia knew he could not use any of the information on the flash drive because it was all obtained illegally. Nonetheless, this was irrefutable evidence of a major fraud scheme operating in the City. He would have to talk to Marco and see if there was another way to proceed.  But, he also knew that Marco lived so far underground and off the grid that it was like trying to speak to The Shadow. If only Garcia had some sort of Bat Signal as a way to get a message to Marco that he wanted to talk.  He had an idea.

Garcia drove east on Lomas Boulevard and stopped at a small, rather nondescript coffee shop called, appropriately enough, Humble Coffee.  Fortunately, he was not driving an official police vehicle as he pulled into one of few and very obvious parking spaces in front.  He quietly walked up to the counter, ordered a small coffee to go, paid and handed the barista his card.  “I’d like to see The Doctor when he’s available.” Garcia turned and returned to his car and drove away knowing he would just have to wait.

A few days later, Garcia was returning from a crime scene near the UNM campus when he received a text message on his phone. The message simply said Coffee? and had been sent from a restricted number.  Garcia turned around and drove to Humble Coffee where he saw Marco sitting at one of the tables outside.  Garcia parked his official police car on a side street a few blocks away and walked back and sat down at the table. “Thanks for the flowers. They really made my day.”

“Well, it’s nice that you have admirers, Lieutenant, but I’m really not much of flower kinda guy.  What brings you to this neighborhood?”

“I’ve recently come into possession of some very interesting information concerning the health of the City and trying to figure out just how to proceed.  I thought perhaps you could help me.”

“Gee, Lieutenant, I only know what I read in the papers, if you see what I mean.”

“Are you telling me that that you’ve also sent this information to the Journal?”

“Do you watch much TV, Lieutenant?  Lately, I’ve started watch this MeTV channel with all of the old programs.  I particularly enjoy Hogan’s Heroes.” Then, Marco sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his check and did his best Sgt. Schultz impression. “I know nothing”. With that, he got up and walked away.

Garcia tried to watch where he went, but Marco seemed to vanish almost as soon as he passed the edge of the building. Garcia knew that Marco had sent a copy of the information contained on the flash drive to The Albuquerque Journal and likely the Albuquerque Free Press.  He would have to act fast and approach the District Attorney to obtain a series of search warrants. There were two problems. The first was that there was so much information and he had not had sufficient time to analyze it thoroughly.  More importantly, the information had been obtained illegally and, therefore, Garcia couldn’t disclose it was in his possession.  Maybe he could let the story break in the Press, which would give him the probable cause he needed to open his own investigation.  Garcia wasn’t sure exactly how to proceed.

 

 

Chapter 7: With a Little Help from My Friends

Lt. Frank Garcia spent the next several days poring over the files contained on the flash drive he had received “anonymously”.  He had figured out that most, if not all, of the lower-level operations were engaged in collecting detailed personal and financial information. But, it didn’t appear that they were doing anything else.  The records of their operations contained only typical office-related expenses like rent, telephone, internet, etc.  He began to concentrate on the items contained in the upper levels of the “pyramid”.

He skipped to a level in the middle of the pyramid.  There were about a dozen entities listed here and again, each one led to a separate file.  These businesses seemed to be suppliers. Some handled medical devices, simple items like crutches, canes, wheelchairs, etc.  Others were focused on more sophisticated devices, like sleep apnea breathing systems, in-home heart and lung monitoring devices.  Another company handled prescription medications, including insulin injections.  One even provided home security systems that claimed to be inter-linked with a local Emergency Response Team. It appeared that each company in this level specialized in one particular aspect of the overall healthcare field, from the most simple to the very sophisticated.

The picture was becoming clear to Garcia, but he was still unsure how everything fit together and why Marco had chosen to display everything as a pyramid. Then he remembered his initial reaction; it was a large-scale pyramid scheme! He sat back and tried to put all the pieces together in his mind.  He decided to go back to the beginning and examine the list of files on the flash drive.  Near the bottom of the list was another text file named Wiring Diagram. At first he assumed that it was one of those files that came with the drive that prompted you to sign up for Updates and other advertisements.  Frank!  You dummy! Marco was being clever again. It was like Marco to assume no one was as clever or as devious as he was.  He had included this file to show how everything was connected, or wired together.

When he opened the file, it was all there in front of him.  It was indeed a pyramid scheme and a very sophisticated one at that.  Frank got a clean sheet of paper from his desk drawer and began to draw his own picture.  The lowest level organizations were simply collecting information from people. This information was passed to a separate set of clearing house-like organizations which processed the raw data to select and prioritize individual accounts.  Another set of companies then placed orders for various health-related products from a series of manufacturers’ representatives or re-sellers, each specializing in only a few products or product lines.  They would buy direct from the manufacturer and then offer these products for sale with a substantial mark-up. The products would then be sold, typically to an individual and their insurance company would be charged the inflated amount.  A final step was to send a second invoice to Medicare or the insurance company of the original person whose identity had been used to start the process.  It was an example of death by a thousand cuts.  None of the individual invoices was large enough to cause concern, maybe just some grumbling and complaining.  But, by processing thousands of transactions, an enormous amount revenue and profit was generated.  A final look at Marco’s pyramid indicated that all of the diverse and discrete organizations eventually flowed (up) to a single holding company.  Garcia assumed that each organization and each level operated with little or no knowledge of any other part of the scheme.  Some may even have considered themselves legitimate.

Frank sat back, pleased with himself for figuring out this complex scheme. OK, so maybe Marco had left a series of bread crumbs for him to follow.  Now, there was only one problem.  All of this information had been obtained illegally and Garcia certainly could not acknowledge that it was in his possession.  “There goes my lily-white reputation”, he thought.  And, unless it could be shown that these individual organizations were inter-connected, they would appear completely legitimate.

Frank was exhausted and decided to go home for the evening. Frank did not enjoy watching television; he found most of it tedious; he preferred to read. But, tonight he didn’t think he could concentrate, so he opted for what he called the mindless activity of staring at the TV until it was time to go to bed.  It would be a few minutes before the Garcia family sat down for dinner together and the local news was on.  The local news anchor on Channel 9 was about to begin with the lead story which was typically some sensationalized version of a minor event in the City. Frank assumed that it was all the make-up the anchor wore that allowed him to keep a serious face when reading such drivel.

“Our Local Nine News Investigative Team has uncovered a major identity theft ring operating here in Albuquerque. The details are still coming in and our sources tell us that there will be major revelations in the coming days.  For this case, we’re working with an undercover operative from the Albuquerque Journal. Tune in for details at Ten!”

Frank was no longer drowsy and sat bolt upright in his seat.  Well, Marco had warned him that he would be sending information to the Journal.  But, Frank quickly realized that Marco had only provided the Journal with a fraction of the whole story.  It was his way of creating publicity to prompt the Police to open an investigation.  Brilliant!

Even though Garcia got to his office early the following morning, the Commissioner and District Attorney were already seated in his office. The Commissioner spoke first, before Garcia was completely in the door. “I suppose you saw the Channel 9 News and the headlines in this morning’s Journal.”  It really wasn’t a question.  “The Department doesn’t need any more negative publicity or implication that we’re not doing our job.  How quickly can you get up to speed on this identity theft business?”

The District Attorney added. “Look, Lieutenant, I spoke to Judge Wilson last evening and he’s prepared to issue whatever warrants you need. Just give me some names and some reasonable probable causes for search and I’ll have the paperwork in your hands in less than an hour.”

“Do you need any type of special experts to do some of the digging for you?” offered the Commissioner.  I will make whatever resources you need available; just let me know.”

Frank Garcia smiled quietly to himself.  On any other occasion, when he had asked for support from either the Police Commissioner or the DA, there had always been a host of reasons why his requests were unreasonable or that he would just have to be patient”.  But now, when their butts were hanging out, he was the one holding up the parade!  “Let me spend an hour or so thinking about the most efficient way to tackle this, Sir. I appreciate your support and believe we can act swiftly and decisively before the Press makes a total mess out of things.”

“That’s the spirit, Lieutenant.  I’ll be in my office waiting for your plan of action.”

“I have to be in court at 9, but will be in my office the remainder of the day.  I have Judge Wilson on speed-dial whenever you’re ready to move.”

Garcia decided he’d let this flurry of activity sink in while he enjoyed a cup of coffee and waited for the clock to reach 8 AM.

He was still savoring his coffee when his computer signaled an incoming e-mail from Matthew Dudley.

Lieutenant, during one of our projects with the La Vida Aureo Community Assist Program, we uncovered a number of organizations operating in the City that claim to be authorized agents to sign people up for health insurance.  We’ve concluded among ourselves that most of these are phony. I don’t know if this has anything to do with that article I this morning’s paper, but I thought I pass it along to you just in case.  I’ve attached a file that contains a list of the places we’ve identified.  Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Regards, Doc.”

When Garcia compared Dudley’s list with the names in the lowest level of Marco’s pyramid, he was not surprised to see a complete match.  Garcia now had a legitimate staring point of names and could begin his investigation in earnest.  He could easily incorporate additional names in the search warrants based on Marco’s information while asserting that everything he was doing stemmed from the Community Assist Team’s efforts. As he hurried down the hall to the Commissioner’s office, he knew that he needed to understand why the two lists of names were so similar.  But, that was a matter for a later and quite private discussion with Matthew Dudley.  Right now, he had work to do.

Because he knew exactly where to look for specific organizations and individuals, it did not take Garcia very long to execute a series of arrest warrants and seize large amount of records. For over a week, the local news aired video clips of people being led away in handcuffs and trucks being loaded with boxes and boxes of inventory reports, shipping manifestos, personnel files, etc., etc.  Eventually, Lt. Frank Garcia was able to pursue the top tier of the pyramid. He led the raid on the corporate offices of Tyler Enterprises and personally placed Madison Tyler in handcuffs.  Garcia knew that Mr. Tyler would be out on bail within a few hours and that this was just the beginning of a very long and involved legal process.   Nonetheless, the insurance fraud scheme had been exposed and would not be operating in Albuquerque, at least for a long time.

 

With a great sense of satisfaction, Frank Garcia knew there was still some unfinished business to attend to.  His first stop was at People’s Florist where he purchased a dozen long-stem red roses.  The barista at Humble Coffee expressed surprise when Garcia said the roses were just an expression of appreciation to Humble’s clientele. Garcia just smiled and left with his coffee.

Under the pretense of paying a visit to Señora Angostura, Frank Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo just as Matthew Dudley was finishing his morning ritual of coffee and the Wall Street Journal.  Dudley looked up from his paper. “Lieutenant, what a pleasant surprise.  I hardly expected to see you here. You’ve become quite a celebrity lately.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Doc.  Actually, I just stopped by to pay my respects to Señora Angostura.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen her and I didn’t want any more time to go by.  It would be disrespectful.”

“Well, Lieutenant, you just missed her.  She took two of ladies who live here on a shopping trip.  I understand the three of them are cooking up a special meal for Sunday.  I’ll be sure to tell her you were here and give her your regards.”

“Thanks, Doc. I would appreciate that.  You know, while I’m here, I wanted to ask you about that list of names you sent me a while ago.  I’m sure you realize that most of those organizations were somehow involved in the major insurance fraud operation that’s been in the news.  If you don’t mind my asking, just how did you come up with those names?”

“It wasn’t that complicated,” said Dudley modestly. “Some members of the Community Assist Team were hearing stories that didn’t make sense, so they decided to look into it a bit further.  That’s about it. It was Minot Atkinson, one of the Team, that actually compiled the list I sent you, based on her research.”

“Well, it obviously helped a great deal in our investigation.  Do you think it would be appropriate if I met with the Team, you know, just to say Thank You?’

“No problem. I’m sure they would appreciate it.  If you’re not busy, the Team is scheduled to meet in a few minutes.  Why don’t you come along?”

 

The Team was gathering in the Conference Room when Dudley approached with Lt. Garcia.  They were a bit surprised; Frank Garcia had become somewhat of a local celebrity and the main spokesman for the Police Department.  Everyone took a seat and Dudley introduced Garcia.

“I have known Mr. Dudley, or Doc, for only a short while but consider him a friend and valuable resource for the Police Department and particularly the Major Crime Unit where I work.  Today, I want to express the Department’s appreciation for the valuable work you folks are doing and for your help in uncovering this insurance fraud scheme.   As you continue to work out in the community, please feel free to alert me to any suspicious activities you may encounter.”

Lt. Garcia concluded his remarks to the Team and asked for questions.  There were none, but Beth Ford stood and spoke. “Lieutenant Garcia, we certainly appreciate the time you took to come and talk with our Team.  We are all too aware of the potential for fraud and deception in this large and rapidly expanding field; so many people are vulnerable.  We understand that you have many other responsibilities, but I would like to keep a line of communication open as we continue to explore our role in the community.”

“I heartily agree,” replied Lt. Garcia “and welcome your input.  You may not be aware of it, but I have a personal relationship with La Vida Aureo and am always glad to stop by to visit with Mr. Dudley or Señora Angostura.”

I should have known,” Beth mused to herself.  “Thank you again, Lieutenant.”

 

Frank Garcia had not been able to get the explicit answer to his question about the lists. He knew that Dudley had only told him part of the story.  Perhaps Dudley had told him everything he knew.  But Garcia’s policeman’s intuition told him that the details of the explanation somehow resided with one or more members of the Team.  He was confident that his presence at their meeting had delivered the Thank You message to the appropriate person.

Beth turned to face the Team and said, “Well, I think that’s enough for today.  We should be proud that we played at least some small part in uncovering this criminal activity.  Hopefully, we can get back to our other initiatives in the very near future.  Mr. Dudley, is there anything you’d like to say before we adjourn?”

“Not really, Beth. I think you’ve pretty well covered things.  I would just like to add my congratulations to the Team for all their fine work.”

As he looked around the room, he noticed that all of the Team members had a very pleased and satisfied look on their faces, particularly Minot Atkinson.  She was sitting very much at ease with her arms folded casually across her chest and a look on her face that Dudley could only describe as the cat that ate the canary”.