Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested two defendants Friday morning for stealing from the estates of deceased people they administered as public employees, announced United States Attorney Melinda Haag and Stephanie Douglas, special agent in charge of the FBI office in San Francisco.
The charges were contained in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury Thursday and unsealed Friday after the arrest of Mandy Natchi Yagi, 54, of San Mateo, and Peter Wong, 43, of Daly City.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told Patch the indictment charges Yagi and Wong with three felonies. A press release from the FBI states those felony charges include conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program and theft concerning a federally funded program.
The San Mateo County government includes a Public Administrator who is responsible for investigating and administering the estates of County residents who die without a will or an appropriate person willing and able to act as the estate administrator.
Yagi and Wong were employed as deputy public administrators through the San Mateo District Attorney's Office until late 2011. Deputy public administrators are County employees who administer the estates under the Public Administrator's jurisdiction.
A deputy public administrator's duties include protecting the decedent's property from waste, loss, or theft; making appropriate burial arrangements; conducting investigations to discover the decedent's assets; liquidating assets at public sale or distributing them to heirs; paying the decedent's bills and taxes; locating people entitled to inherit from the estate and ensuring that these people received their inheritance.
As the Public Administrator is part of the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told Patch that the case was turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office and San Mateo County Public Health Department for investigation, in order for the DA's office to stay neutral in the matter.
"I had to recuse myself. We can't investigate something that was part of the DA's Public Administrator Office," Wagstaffe said, since the defendants were technically employees of his office at some point when the thefts are believed to have occured.
Wagstaffe said the investigation was a long one, as county officials slowly started to notice signs that something was not right with the deceased county residents' estates.
"The department started noticing discrepancies in the estates and accounts that caused them to think there might have been thefts," he explained.
According to a press release by the FBI, in their official capacities as deputy public administrators, Yagi and Wong had access to the assets - including cash, financial instruments, bank accounts, and valuable items such as jewelry - of the estates they administered. The indictment charges Yagi and Wong with using this access to take possession of estate assets for their personal benefit and for the benefit of persons other than the rightful owner.
According to the indictment, which the FBI sent to Patch, thefts between November of 2010 and July of 2011 included a little more than $10,000 in cash and as many as 14 pieces of jewelry of jewelry and gold. Additionally, the article states that, between February and October of 2011, the defendants allegedly stored a metal box in a storage facility that contained documents and valuables belonging to as many as 19 different estates they were in charge of.
The defendants made their initial appearances in federal court Friday morning before United States Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins, and were ordered released subject to the posting of $100,000 unsecured bonds. Their next scheduled appearance before Judge Cousins will be on June 27 for identification of counsel, according to the FBI's press release.
According to the FBI, the maximum statutory penalty for conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program is five years. The maximum penalty for theft concerning a federally funded program is ten years.
Drew Caputo is the assistant United States attorney who is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Rosario Calderon and Courtney Tellian. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, building on an initial investigation by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office has continued to assist the FBI in the investigation that resulted in this prosecution.
Patch will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.