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June 23, 2021

Police pass Dabo evidence to DA

Status of probe up to Candace Hooper now

San Benito County District Attorney Candice Hooper said this week she has assigned a forensic accountant to look at evidence of possible criminal wrongdoing in the handling of a charitable trust by county school board member Mitchell Dabo.

“We have a forensic accountant looking at it,” she wrote in response to a Free Lance inquiry. “I need to be briefed on the status.”

Because of the ongoing investigation, Hooper said she could not comment further on the case.

She did not say whether her office or Hollister police had received any other complaints about Dabo, a local insurance agent and financial consultant.

She also declined to say whether she would be requesting any assistance from outside agencies in the matter of the disappearance of funds from the Matulich Charitable Trust between 2009 and 2015, when Dabo was the appointed trustee of the original $750,000 fund.

Acting Hollister Chief of Police Carlos Reynoso said he passed evidence in the case on to Hooper early this month, concluding a police investigation of the matter.

The latest exchange of evidence — including a 217-page binder of evidence presented at a Superior Court civil trial in November — ended a back-and-forth between police and the prosecutor that had gone on for weeks.

Hollister Police Department in December opened its own criminal investigation, and received the binder of evidence – canceled checks, bank statements and court documents – from Hooper showing withdrawals of money from the Matulich Charitable Trust by Dabo.

The evidence, presented at the trial of Dabo’s civil lawsuit by the Community Foundation for San Benito County, had been delivered to Hooper by the Free Lance.

The binder had been assembled by John Clark, a Morgan Hill lawyer for the Charitable Foundation for San Benito County.

Hooper had told the Free Lance on Nov. 22 that she would assign a forensic accountant to look at Dabo’s handling of finances for the Matulich Trust if she received evidence from the police.

The documents were presented at the Nov. 13 civil trial in San Benito Superior Court in which the judge ruled that Dabo had violated state probate laws when he drained more than $640,000 from the Matulich Charitable Trust for his own purposes, and ordered him to pay a $1.74 million judgment, plus more than $80,000 in legal bills.

Dabo told the Free Lance in December he could not comment about his role as trustee of the Matulich Trust, fearing that anything he might say could impact the criminal investigation.

But he declined an offer to present his side, except to say he was hopeful the district attorney would eventually decide not to prosecute.

More than a year ago, both Hooper and the police had declined to pursue any investigation of Dabo’s handling of the charitable trust, despite pleas from the Community Foundation, which had been designated to receive funds in the trust. The trust was established in 2001 by Barbara and Tony Matulich. Tony Matulich died in 2003 and Barbara Matulich died in 2012, when the balance was to go to the community foundation. Instead, according to the court documents, it was transferred into Dabo’s personal accounts.

“We have always indicated that a forensic accounting analyst is needed to properly bring an investigation to a point where we could develop probable cause and for the DA to be able to prosecute the case,” Reynoso said in December. “We also believe that although the requirements are different, handing over the evidence from the civil case investigation to the DA could quite possibly have enough probable cause for criminal charges. presented in the Dabo case.”

“Furthermore, the DA now has at her disposal a forensic accounting analyst that can help her office,” he said. “At this point, what we should all do is to concentrate on pushing forward what evidence exists toward prosecution.”

Meanwhile, Dabo as of mid-week still had not resigned from the San Benito County School District Board of Trustee.

He told schools Supt. Krystal Lomanto on Dec. 1 that he would be resigning his school board seat, citing fallout from a civil court ruling in November that he illegally took money from the charitable trust.

Dabo sent an email to Lomanto the same day that the Free Lance reported that Hooper would investigate possible criminal fraud or theft charges against him, once she obtained evidence from a Nov. 13 civil trial.

“I know this has been hard on everyone, the articles, the accusations, the office under attack, etc.,” Dabo wrote county school Supt. Krystal Lomanto on Dec. 1 in an email obtained by the Free Lance in a public record request. “I will resign my position. I just don’t know when I’ll do it.”

If he does not resign before the March filing deadline for candidates in the 2018 election, a board appointee could fill the complete new four-year term.

The Superior Court trial in Hollister in November ended with a civil ruling that Dabo violated state probate laws and diverted money from a charitable trust to his own accounts, denying the Community Foundation for San Benito Country more than $640,000 in money for local charities.

In December, Dabo did not seek reelection by his fellow trustees to a third consecutive year as president of the school board, where he has served for 34 years.

Dabo did not attend board meetings on Nov. 30 or Dec. 14, when Joan Campbell-Garcia was elected the new president. He also did not attend the Nov. 13 civil court trial, saying he could not afford an attorney.

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