Why should we care?

Why should we care?

Why should we care about any further investigation of the money that disappeared from the Tony and Barbara Matulich Charitable Trust?

After all, the farming couple that established the trust died in 2002 and 2012. It wasn’t like the money was taken from them personally.

The transfer of most of the trust’s money took place more than five years ago. No one was really hurt, some might say—charities just didn’t get unexpected windfalls that they had not expected.

Trustees of charitable trusts have a lot of leeway in the way they invest money in the trusts, and investments involve risk. Money managers can’t be held responsible if some investments fail, some people say.

A civil court judge’s ruling in the lawsuit brought by the Community Foundation of San Benito County—that Mitchell Dabo unlawfully transferred more than $640,000 from the trust and should therefore pay the foundation $1.74 million in damages settled the matter, right?

Mitchell Dabo was a longtime friend of the Matulich family—he began working on their farm when he was 12. He had served on the county school board for years and filled out tax returns for them and hundreds of their neighbors for years. If they couldn’t trust him, whom could they trust?

Mitchell Dabo, the grandson of immigrants who married into a well-known family, was generally considered to be a nice guy. He had helped his mom run her liquor store and advised neighbors on real estate deals and counseled people how to protect their loved ones. He shouldn’t be prosecuted for a mistakes, he and his friends say.

Investigations of possible financial crimes—so-called white-collar crimes—can be complicated and expensive. These issues are best handled by regulatory agencies, not by taxpayer-funded law enforcement agencies, it can be argued.

We should care. And here’s why.

Tony and Barbara Matulich chose to be philanthropic and donated a sizeable portion of their hard-earned fortune, which had been built with the sweat and tears of years in their fields and orchards, back to their community. It was a legacy gift that could have been transformative. They fully expected the bulk of the their charitable trust to be distributed by the Community Foundation for San Benito County to local charities. There was more than $650,000 in it when Barbara Matulich died in 2012. Think of all the good deeds their act of generosity could have funded in this community.

But most of that money was transferred by Mitchell Dabo to accounts controlled by him.

Federal and state agencies say that taking advantage of seniors is a growing and serious problem in California and across the United States. Seniors are especially susceptible to scams and schemes by con-artists, especially by people they trust. Licensing agencies can only control licenses, not the actions of unscrupulous, self-styled experts who prey, with or without licenses or credentials, on suspecting couples. Failure to investigate these crimes not only fails to provide justice for folks like Tony and Barbara Matulich, but also sends a signal that the justice system favors the powerful and connected, and has no patience for helping provide justice for the vulnerable.

The lawsuit brought by the Community Foundation did not simply represent a private civil dispute. A Superior Court judge ruled that Mitchell Dabo violated state probate laws and denied local charities money that had been promised them. Every citizen—every grade school student—understands that taking money that doesn’t belong to you is wrong, and that it in many instances it’s a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment.

We need to trust our friends. We need to trust our advisers. We need to trust our elected officials. We need to trust our law enforcement agencies.

That’s why we should care.

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