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St. Pete woman accused of stealing from ambulance company

A woman was arrested this week after confronted with evidence she stole about $52,000 from the company contracted to provide ambulance services for Pinellas County, authorities said.

Meghan Anne Zewen, 37, of St. Petersburg, turned herself into the county jail Tuesday on a charge of grand theft.

Zewen, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said, has been stealing for years from Paramedics Plus, which operates under the name Sunstar.

Detectives said she falsified information related to her own and others' health benefit accounts and used it to get cash.

"We take this very seriously," said Debbie Vass, chief administrative officer for Paramedics Plus, who stressed that no taxpayer dollars were lost. "The county, our patients, our employees didn't lose any money associated with this situation."

Zewen was hired as the human resources service coordinator there in May 2009.

"She reportedly began this diverting of funds shortly after she started working there," said Marianne Pasha, a sheriff's spokeswoman. "Once confronted with the information recently, she admitted doing it."

Company officials first discovered the missing money during an audit in September, officials said. Zewen was fired that same month, and company officials asked the Sheriff's Office's economic crimes unit to investigate.

According to an arrest affidavit, detectives discovered the following about Zewen's scheme:

*At various times during her employment, she halted payroll deductions for her health care premiums while still getting benefits.

*She entered her husband as an employee of the company when he was not, then opened a health service account for him with company funds. She later drew money from the account via a debit card.

*She put extra money into several employees' health service accounts, then convinced them it was a mistake and that to fix it they should withdraw the cash with a debit card and give it to her to return to the company account. She kept the cash.

Detectives believe Zewen used the money to pay bills.

"There also may be an alleged substance abuse issue as well," Pasha said.

Vass said she wants the community to know the theft "didn't impact any quality care service that we provide."

"Employees always come up with new ways to steal money from companies," she said. "We've reviewed and improved our internal processes."

Records show Zewen was released late Wednesday from the Pinellas County Jail on her own recognizance.

Reach Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Pete woman accused of stealing from ambulance company 10/25/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 25, 2012 6:31pm]
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