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June 23, 2021

Dabo prosecution could turn on statute of limitations


Eight months after a Superior Court judge ruled that San Benito County Board of Education Trustee Mitchell Dabo violated California probate laws when he transferred more than $640,000 from a charitable trust to his person accounts, the fate of an ongoing criminal probe could hinge on how prosecutors interpret state statute of limitations laws.

San Benito County District Attorney Candice Hooper continues to decline comment on any aspect of her investigation of Dabo’s actions as trustee of the Matulich Charitable Trust. Police investigators have twice sent evidence back to Hooper, and say they have concluded their investigation.

According to documents provided by Dabo himself in a civil lawsuit brought by the San Benito County Community Foundation, the draining of nearly all funds from an $800,000 trust began in 2009 and continued after the death of Barbara Matulich of Hollister in 2012.

California’s statute of limitations laws—which dictate the periods when criminal charges can be filed—vary according to the crime, say legal experts. There is no statute of limitations, for example, for murder or other offenses punishable by death or life imprisonment, or for embezzlement of public funds. For most other crimes, the statute of limitations is six years for offenses punishable by eight or more years in prison, and three years for offenses punishable by less than eight years, after commission of the offense.

That could end any prospects for prosecution of Dabo, but state law makes an exception for any crime that includes fraud, a breach of a fiduciary obligation—such as the management of a trust—or theft or embezzlement of money from an elderly or dependent adult, In these cases, the statute of limitations period does not begin until the discovery of an offense—instead of when it occurred.

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick said this typically begins when an investigation gets a case number, when police investigators believe there is enough evidence to warrant the start of an investigation.

Case opened Dec. 12

For Mitchell Dabo, Westrick said that beginning date is Dec. 12, 2017—the date when Hollister police said their investigation officially began. This was nearly a month after documents detailing the transfer by Dabo of money from the Matulich Charitable Trust to his personal accounts had been presented at the civil trial.

A 217-page binder containing the evidence gathered by John Clark of Morgan Hill, the foundation’s lawyer, and affirmed by a Superior Court judge at the Nov. 13 civil trial included trust bank statements, canceled checks, emails and court documents detailing the systematic draining of funds from the charitable trust by Dabo.

Hooper said in late November 2017 that she would ask a special forensic accountant to look at the civil court evidence and investigate possible crimes by Dabo, a self-described financial planner and tax preparer.Hooper sent the binder to the Hollister police investigators in December, and on Dec. 12, 2017, the police department officially opened its investigation, Capt. Carlos Reynoso confirmed this month.

The binder included copies of canceled checks from the trust signed by Dabo and evidence of electronic transfers from the trust to a Mitchell Dabo Associates bank account.

The canceled checks included: numerous checks made out to “cash” and signed by Dabo, in amounts ranging from $2,700 to $21,008; three checks, totaling $490,000, to the late Jack Tyler, a friend and former business associate of Dabo; one check, for $3,000, to Barbara Matulich dated three weeks after she died in March 2012.

The money in the Matulich trust had been earmarked for non-profits served by the Community Foundation for San Benito County, which received just $82,110 from the trust. The foundation said in court papers that Dabo had offered no explanation for the missing funds.

In November, a week after the civil court judgment, Dabo, in his only public comment in the case, apologized in a signed online statement for what he called “a costly mistake.” He has repeatedly declined requests for interviews.

Foundation: Other victims

Foundation CEO Gary Byrne said earlier this year that several individuals had reached out to him, alleging they were victims of fraud or theft by Dabo, but he said none had agreed to come forward.

Phil Fortino, president of the foundation board of directors, said last year he was hopeful there would be a criminal investigation, and the additional victims would come forward. “There are others who have said they had a similar experience,” he added.

Reynoso said last week that no additional possible victims of Dabo had come forward, and that police had not interviewed any. He added that anyone who believes they were the victim of fraud or theft in their dealings with Mitchell Dabo should contact Hollister police.

He said the case has been sent back to police by Hooper twice and each time sent back to her office. He declined to say whether or not police had recommended prosecution.

San Benito County Superior Court Judge Marjorie L. Carter in November ruled in favor of the foundation in its 2016 suit against Dabo and ordered him to pay the foundation $1.74 million in damages, plus an estimated $85,000 in legal fees.

Dabo had told his county school board colleagues in December that he intended to resign, but didn’t say when. There is no record of any discussion of his civil court case or handling of the charitable trust by the school board.

Dabo is up for re-election to his District 4 seat. He has not said whether he will seek another term.

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