This is an update to an earlier story.
By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
The FBI has charged two former employees of San Mateo County with theft and conspiracy to commit theft in connection with their roles in overseeing the disposition of the assets of residents who die without wills or estate administrators.
An indictment by a federal grand jury and unsealed on Friday, June 22, charges Mandy Natchi Yagi, 54, of San Mateo, and Peter Wong, 43, of Daly City with conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program and theft concerning a federally funded program, according to a statement from U. S. Attorney Melinda Haag and Stephanie Douglas, who heads the FBI office in San Francisco.
Both defendants are out of custody on $100,000 bail after appearing in court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins of the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Their next court appearance is set for Wednesday, June 27, federal prosecutors said.
Both suspects had resigned, Mr. Wong in mid-November 2011 after three and a half years with the county, and Ms. Yagi in early December 2011 after more than 10 years.
As deputy public administrators, Ms. Yagi and Mr. Wong had the obligation to protect a decedent's property "from waste, loss or theft," prosecutors said. The role includes making funeral arrangements; investigating a decedent's assets and liquidating them, whether through a public sale or by distribution to heirs; paying the relevant taxes; and locating heirs and ensuring that they receive what is due them.
Ms. Yagi and Mr. Wong had access to decedents' cash, stock certificates, bank accounts and valuable items such as jewelry, the statement said. They used their access "to take possession of estate assets for their personal benefit and for the benefit of persons other than the rightful owner," prosecutors said.
The county's investigation began after the public health department -- known as the Health System -- assumed supervision in July 2011 over the public administrator's office, an office that had been overseen by the District Attorney's Office.
"... We implemented reviews of documents prepared by the deputy public administrators," Health System spokeswoman Robyn Thaw said in an email. The reviews turned up activities of "concern" that led to the questioning of Ms. Yagi and Mr. Wong, who soon left their jobs "with very little notice," Ms. Thaw said.
"It was after they left and other staff began handling some of the public administrator estates that we discovered further problems and referred the matter to the Sheriff's Office in December 2011," she added.
"... We discovered a box of items from many different estates in a place that only Wong and Yagi had access to. That they had items from many different estates in a box that was not under lock and key with the public administrator was evidence that they were misappropriating assets," ," Ms. Thaw said. "That was when we called in law enforcement."
The department will be contacting heirs and beneficiaries to the estates, Ms. Thaw said, but would not speculate how many cases were mishandled nor speculate on how long it might take to resolve the cases and what the monetary losses might be.
The Health System contacted the Attorney General because "the alleged misdeeds occurred while the program was under the supervision of the District Attorney and therefore, they had a conflict in investigating their own employees," Ms. Thaw said.
The District Attorney's Office has not yet responded to a request for an interview.
The federal case is based on alleged violations of the law as it applied to a federally funded program, according to the FBI statement.
If convicted, the defendants could face maximum prison sentences of five years on the conspiracy charge and 10 years on the theft charge, prosecutors said.