A matter of trust

A little over a year ago, we wrote an editorial in this space entitled, “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?” was the question we posed.

After all, we wrote, it wasn’t like the money was taken from them personally, since the farming couple who established the trust had both died. And the transfer of most of the trust’s money took place more than six years ago, shortly after the death of Barbara Matulich. “No one was really hurt, some might say—charities just didn’t get unexpected windfalls that they had not expected,” we wrote.

“Money managers can’t be held responsible if some investments fail,” some people might say.

Last month, we reported that District Attorney Candice Hooper had decided not to prosecute Mitchell Dabo on any criminal charges in connection with his draining of $644,000 from the Matulich Charitable Trust into accounts he controlled, despite recommendations from Hollister police for some prosecution.

The trust funds were supposed to be given to the Community Foundation for San Benito County, to funnel money to local charities.

Meanwhile, a Superior Court judgment of $1.74 million against Dabo, the court assigned manager of the trust, still stands unpaid, gathering interest.

If Dabo had followed state laws, the Matulich Foundation funds would have been a huge boost for San Benito County non-profits. The amount was more than 2½ times the approximately $250,000 the foundation awarded to 41 non-profits in 2018; the court judgement is more than seven times that number.

Why should we care? Indeed. Think of the lives that could have been transformed, the valuable organizations that could have been helped by the generosity of that loving San Benito farm couple.

The judgment will never be paid. In the only interview Dabo gave to the Free Lance more than a year ago, he said he had no money. That’s why, he said, he didn’t contest the lawsuit brought against him by the foundation, which had sought its money when Hooper initially rejected its plea to investigate the matter in 2016.

After months of silence, Hooper’s stunning conclusion last month that she couldn’t find enough evidence of criminal intent meant that Dabo would not only avoid paying any monetary damages, but he would also skate on any criminal charges in connection with the draining of the trust.

Let’s be clear: Dabo admitted transferring the money out of the trust to his personal accounts. The Superior Court ruling was in large part based on documents he supplied, including one check made out to “cash” and signed by him for $21,000.

Life goes on.

It is nearly tax season, a busy time of year for tax preparers. Once again, San Benito citizens will put their trust in Dabo’s hands to prepare their taxes, many of them no doubt longtime friends—just as Tony and Barbara Matulich had counted him as a friend.

The complete silence about Dabo’s misdeeds from all elected officials in San Benito County continues. He served the remainder of his term on the school board. He continues to run his business, half a block down the street from the foundation.

Trust. It’s the glue that holds communities together. We trust our financial advisers. We trust those who manage funds. We trust elected officials. We trust law enforcement. The saga of the Dabo case represents a breach of that trust, on many fronts.

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