A California truck driver pulled into the Blue Beacon Truck Wash in central Pennsylvania and spotted an advertisement for low-cost health exams for truckers. Needing one for his commercial driver's license, he called the number on the sign and was picked up by a woman in an old Ford Tempo.
She drove him to her town house, where she performed the $65 physical, had him provide a urine sample and faxed the required forms to the California Department of Transportation.
It all seemed a bit odd to trucker Todd Wakefield, whose suspicions were heightened when California authorities told him about irregularities in the paperwork. After some clever sleuthing of his own, Wakefield turned his findings over to Pennsylvania State Police — who say they uncovered a scam that snagged at least 16 commercial drivers they know about, and probably more they don't.
Police were looking for more possible victims Tuesday after charging Joann Wingate, a 56-year-old chiropractor from Carlisle whose license was suspended, with swiping the identity of a psychiatrist with the same last name to perform bogus exams on commercial truck drivers who needed them to maintain their licenses.
Wingate was charged Friday, posted $10,000 bail and was released Monday from Cumberland County Prison. She faces a preliminary hearing July 16 on charges of forgery, identity theft, impersonation, fraud and related offenses.
The phone number that state police said she used to advertise was still in service Tuesday. It answered with a recorded message that promoted services ranging from physical exams for truckers to drug testing for bath salts, oxycodone and other substances. The recording offered a "free five-minute shuttle from all Carlisle truck stops," and gave another number to call for 24-hour service.
A woman who answered the phone at that number identified herself as Wingate but declined to comment.
State records show that Wingate's chiropractic license was suspended indefinitely in the fall after regulators found she had been offering trucker physicals at least since 2009. It wasn't clear Tuesday whether regulators made a criminal referral to police as a result of their investigation, and a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State declined to comment.
Wingate continued to advertise after her suspension and, since Jan. 1, performed physicals on 16 drivers licensed in Pennsylvania, police said.
She examined Wakefield, the California trucker, on June 1. After talking to authorities in that state and researching Wingate on the Internet, Wakefield concluded she wasn't who she seemed to be, police said. The trucker contacted the ersatz physician the day after his exam, and she agreed to refund his money.
While meeting with her, Wakefield managed to snap a picture of her medical examiner's certificate. He later shared it with state police, who noted it bore the license number of a psychiatrist from the Philadelphia area.
The psychiatrist told police she didn't perform physicals and had never been to Carlisle, a town about 20 miles from the state capital of Harrisburg.
State police searched Wingate's home last week and said they found "a large quantity of medical documents and forms related to DOT physicals," as well as signs and brochures. They also found a small quantity of marijuana and a marijuana pipe, court documents said.
State police said that truckers who believe they were victimized should contact them.