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Clinic manager accused of theft

Authorities say the wife of a firefighters union officer embezzled $50,000 from her boss, who was also a friend.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

TAMPA -- About eight months ago, the bank account for the Westwood Family Practice on Gunn Highway ran oddly low, and bill collectors began calling.

Tampa firefighter Cecil Harrell and his nurse practitioner wife, Kathleen, who opened the clinic last year, couldn't understand where all their money had gone.

So they started digging.

The Harrells said they made discoveries that led them to believe that their office manager, the wife of a fellow firefighter, had embezzled tens of thousands of dollars from them and spent the money at restaurants and clothing stores, even showering her husband with gifts, including a gold watch and a stereo.

Last month, Hillsborough sheriff's officials arrested the office manager, 30-year-old Yesenia Ingrassia, accusing her of stealing about $50,000 in cash deposits and Medicare payments.

Ingrassia was charged with grand theft, scheming to defraud a financial institution and fraudulent use of a credit card. She was released on her own recognizance.

She is the wife of firefighter Sal Ingrassia, who also is an officer for the Tampa firefighters union.

Cecil Harrell said his wife met Yesenia Ingrassia, who was then Yesenia Stepp, at a previous job and hired her to manage the office when they opened it last July.

She was given authority over the bank account, paying all bills and opening all the mail.

"We gave her carte blanche," said Harrell, who says they did not know Ingrassia has a criminal history.

They trusted her, even introducing her to Sal Ingrassia, whom Cecil Harrell had befriended on the job almost a decade ago.

The two couples often dined and watched football games together.

When they began suspecting Yesenia Ingrassia, Cecil Harrell said he confronted Sal Ingrassia over coffee, showing him thousands of dollars of personal credit card purchases billed to the company. He said Ingrassia defended his wife, saying it was all a misunderstanding.

"We've been friends for nine years," Cecil Harrell said of Sal Ingrassia. "We're not really talking too much now."

Yesenia Ingrassia could not be reached. According to records, she has a criminal history dating back to 1994. She has been arrested on charges ranging from grand theft to forgery to writing worthless checks.

Many of those cases were resolved with orders that she pay restitution, records show.

Al Suarez, president of the firefighter's union, said Wednesday he was aware of the arrest.

"I know for a fact this has nothing to do with Sal," Suarez said.

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story.

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