A prominent South Florida doctor didn’t understand how her thriving practice was failing until an audit led to the arrest of a formerly trusted officer manager, who is accused of stealing nearly $500,000 from the business.
“I had 8,000 patients and was drowning in bills,” said Lanalee Araba Sam, 49, an obstetrician/gynecologist practicing in Fort Lauderdale since 2004.
Things were so tight that Sam, a pioneer in robotic hysterectomies and a regular on the charity circuit, sometimes went without a paycheck so her staff would be paid, she told police investigators.
Miramar police arrested Ralphyna Wylette Thompkins, 35, of Miramar, on Wednesday on grand theft charges. Efforts to reach her by phone and email were not successful.
Thompkins joined Elite Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2009 as an office manager and in the years since embezzled from the business in various ways, Fort Lauderdale police say, including:
— Thompkins doubled her salary, from $65,000 to up to $120,804 in 2017, without Sam’s permission, the report said.
— Detectives allege Thompkins used Sam’s signature stamp, which was supposed to be for emergencies only, to sign more than 400 checks made payable to cash. The checks were supposed to buy medical and office supplies and petty cash, but “a vast majority” were deposited into or cashed from two of Thompkins’ personal bank accounts, police said.
Thompkins hired a billing company, but did not pay them regularly, according to police. She wrote more than 30 checks payable to herself and noted on the memo lines they were for cashier checks to pay the billing company, which has an outstanding balance owed to them, the arrest report said.
— A receptionist told police that patients’ cash payments were turned over to Thompkins, but over two years, the money was not deposited into the business’ account, police said.
— Without Sam’s permission, Thompkins is also accused of canceling insurance for the office, which has expensive medical equipment including a $250,000 laser, the report said.
Police estimate approximately $489,679 was stolen over five years. Thompkins was arrested on suspicion of committing grand theft over $100,000; fraudulent use another’s personal identification without consent; organized scheme to defraud by obtaining property worth more than $50,000; uttering a forged instrument with intent to defraud and making a false entry in corporate books.
Thompkins was released Friday from a Broward County jail on bonds of $42,000. The police investigation is continuing.
Sam told detectives she relied on monthly financial statements that Thompkins gave her. A management company Sam used told police they were unaware of any fraud and are cooperating with the investigation, the arrest report said.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” said Sam. “I take responsibility for not looking closer.”
Sam, who in 2015 climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds to fight human trafficking, said the incident has changed the way she relates to people. She said she is concerned about having to rebuild savings as she supports her son, 13.
Sam said she was “like a godmother” to Thompkin’s 3-year-old child and took the office staff, including Thompkins, on three cruise vacations and other trips.
She sold the practice, but remains the medical director there and continues to care for patients.
“What’s been lost is more than money,” Sam said. “What’s been lost is my faith in humanity.”