YAKIMA - A case of mistaken identity caused a former Yakima woman to end up on a segment of "Washington's Most Wanted."
Martha Leticia Garcia Medina had her picture shown on the June 5 episode of the show, along with information about charges of welfare fraud, perjury and giving false information to public officials.
The problem is, it was the wrong Martha Leticia.
Yakima County Sheriff's Office authorities sent the incorrect information and photograph to Q13 (KCPQ), the Fox affiliate in Seattle that produces the show.
The piece was broadcast on Fox stations in the Seattle, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Yakima areas.
"It's a mistake that never should have happened in the first place," said James Kirkham, Medina's lawyer.
The sheriff's department apparently didn't notice that the birth date for Medina was different than that of Garcia.
The two women were born a year apart.
The error occurred after the Yakima County prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant for Martha Leticia Garcia. Beside the name and in parenthesis was "aka Martha Medina," Kirkham said.
The information was passed to the sheriff's office, which incorrectly identified the suspect being sought as Martha Leticia Medina.
It's unclear why the sheriff's office supplied the "Washington's Most Wanted" producers with a photo and information about Medina.
But court records indicate Medina, whose maiden name is Garcia and who previously lived in Yakima County, had been charged with driving without a valid driver's license in 1999 ó a charge she pled guilty to in November 2001.
Medina, 34, now lives in Texas.
The 35-year-old forgery suspect has been living in Oregon.
The mix-up came to light when a worker from the state Department of Social and Health Services saw the June 5 show and notified authorities they had the wrong person. The DSHS employee had dealt with the welfare fraud part of the case.
Medina's friends and family, many of whom live in Yakima, also saw the segment and called authorities.
Debbie Martin, records supervisor for the sheriff's office, said in her 25 years with the agency, she's never seen a situation like this before.
"It's absolutely uncom-mon," Martin said. "It's simply a mistake and we struggle never to do that."
Garcia allegedly stole $18,000 worth of welfare benefits while claiming to live in Grandview. Police say she really was in Oregon the entire time.
Erica Hill, managing editor for Q13, said she was first notified of the mistake late Tuesday afternoon. She had the photo and story removed from the station's website. A correction will be issued on today's episode of the show.
Kirkham said his client is just happy not to have a warrant out for her arrest, but that a case of mistaken identity can still cause a fair amount of harm.
"It goes without saying that if your picture is shown on 'Washington's Most Wanted' in an area you grew up in, it's a foregone conclusion your reputation will be harmed," he said.
Copyright (c) 2010, Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.
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