Fresno County spent $156,000 to pay off estates of dead people and their relatives whose possessions may have been stolen by Fresno County Public Administrator employees and their friends.
Fresno County Counsel Dan Cederborg confirmed on Thursday that 52 estates were settled by the county. Those issues were related to concerns from families whose loved ones passed away and their possessions allegedly taken.
“The District Attorney/Public Administrator either reimbursed or is in the process in probate court to reimburse,” he said.
The money came from a $275,000 budget transfer approved last year by Fresno County supervisors in a single-page, vaguely worded document that alluded to correcting “distributions made by the Public Administrator Division.” The document didn’t list names or number of people affected.
“The District Attorney-Public Administrator became aware of the need to correct the amount that was distributed to certain estates handled by the Public Administrator Division not long after taking office in 2015,” the document said.
Fresno County officials scoured probate records to look for estates that may have been affected, said Cederborg. As many as 400 estates were evaluated, he said, and settlements were made on 52 of them.
Some were as small as a few hundred dollars, but many were owed a few thousand dollars, he said.
Only a handful of claims were filed against the county after the Public Administrator thefts were made public two years ago, even though county officials suggested effects of the thefts were widespread.
Fresno County faces one lawsuit by an Oregon woman who said her mother’s estate was looted by members of the Public Administrator’s staff. A claim was filed by a man who said the county owes his family $10,000 for items taken after his father’s death. Another claim was filed by a woman seeking $100,000 for the sale of her parents’ property after they died. Lawsuits have not been filed in either claim.
Amount the county has paid back to families affected by Public Administrator thefts
On Wednesday, the state Attorney General’s office filed a 34-count complaint charging eight people – four of them Fresno County employees – with thefts from dead people and their families.
The focus of the investigation was the Fresno County Public Administrator’s Office, which was dismantled in 2015 and moved from the coroner’s jurisdiction to the District Attorney’s Office. It was part of the Fresno County Coroner’s Office for 35 years until the end of 2014 when Coroner David Hadden retired and the coroner’s office was moved into the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
In its complaint, the state listed 31 “overt acts” of thefts of items from nine estates that included cars, money, cash, china, rare coins and jewelry. They then sold items to pawn businesses. In one case, two of those charged split more than $44,000 in proceeds from a life insurance policy, the complaint said.
Altogether, the transactions netted in excess of $120,000, the complaint said.
Each year, the Public Administrator’s Office handles millions of dollars in assets of people who die with nobody to oversee their estates.
The discovery was a significant blow to the Public Administrator’s Office since three of the office’s four employees were charged in the case. A fourth county employee, who worked for the Public Guardian’s Office, also was charged. The crimes in the complaint occurred between 2010 and 2013, the state Attorney General’s Office said.
Five of the suspects were jailed Wednesday and subsequently bailed out. Three others haven’t turned themselves in.
The alleged ringleader in the thefts was Noe Jimenez, 49, who was charged with 22 felony counts, including embezzlement, perjury and conspiracy. He paid a $195,000 bail and left jail Wednesday night. Susan Patricia Nesbitt, 50, was charged with nine counts of embezzlement and conspiracy. She left jail Wednesday on $80,000 bail.
Ree Bruce, 61, was charged with four felony counts, including conspiracy and embezzlement. He was not in jail and is wanted on a $35,000 state warrant. Bruce, Jimenez and Nesbitt three worked for the Public Administrator’s Office in managing estates.
Marty McClue, 54, who worked in the Fresno County Public Guardian’s Office, was charged with felony embezzlement and conspiracy. He turned himself in Thursday night and was released Friday morning on $20,000 bail.
Others charged were: Terrence L. Ward, 54, five felony counts of embezzlement, receiving stolen property and conspiracy; Desiree Robledo, 29, two felony counts of receiving stolen property and conspiracy; and Kirsten Paxton, 23, one felony count of receiving stolen property. William E. Stoutingburg, 29, is wanted on two felony counts of conspiracy and embezzlement.
Ward, described in the complaint as a Tulare County employee, was out on $30,000 bail Wednesday night.
Robledo was released on $20,000 bail and Paxton was released on $10,000 bail. Stoutingburg is being sought on a $15,000 state warrant. All three helped clean up homes of people who had died, the complaint said.
Arraignment for the group is scheduled on March 29.
It is clear that the conduct of the charged defendants, many of whom were employed by the county of Fresno, harmed many vulnerable families.
Kimberly Mayhew, lawyer who filed lawsuit in Public Administrator thefts
Patricia Craveiro, who lives in Oregon, filed a lawsuit last week. She said that after members of the public administrator’s staff took possession of her mother’s home and property, she didn’t receive proper payment or an itemized list of what was sold at auction. She also said her mother’s home was sold for $100,000 less than its value. Her lawsuit claims that Jimenez told her the home’s value was lower because of taxes owed and liens on the property.
Craveiro said she didn’t know what happened to antiques, furniture, jewelry, silverware, china, an antique pool table and a motorcycle that were at her mother’s home after she died in 2014. She also alleged that a pickup was stolen after the Public Administrator’s Office took possession of her mother’s estate. Altogether, she said, the value of her mother’s items were valued at $72,500. In the end, $7,600 was split between two beneficiaries, the lawsuit said.
Craveiro’s lawyer, Kimberly Mayhew of Fresno, said her client was encouraged by the state investigation and arrests. The suit claims negligent supervision, financial elder abuse and breach of fiduciary responsibility. The suit seeks compensation for loss of property, damages and emotional distress.
“Although Patti’s mother’s claim was not expressly addressed in the criminal complaint, it is clear that the conduct of the charged defendants, many of whom were employed by the county of Fresno, harmed many vulnerable families,” Mayhew said.