Two former county workers responsible for the assets of residents who die without a will or administrator instead stole from them for more than two years, according to federal officials who arrested and charged them Friday.
Former deputy public administrators Mandy Natchi Yagi, 54, of San Mateo, and Peter Wong, 43, of Daly City, are charged with theft concerning a federally funded program, conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program and forfeiture.
The Health System uncovered the pair’s alleged crimes shortly after taking over the Public Administrator division from the District Attorney’s Office last July. The Public Administrator handles the estate of people without wills or designated administrators, making burial arrangements, liquidating assets, paying bills and locating heirs.
Between roughly March 23, 2009 and Dec. 6, 2011, Yagi and Wong instead stole thousands of dollars and kept property from several estates in a private file box, according to the grand jury indictment.
This box of items tipped off the Health System who called in the FBI and uncovered other examples of misappropriation, said Health System spokeswoman Robyn Thaw.
According to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, Yagi withdrew $5,000 from a bank account of one estate using a check made out to "R.M.R.” Two days later, that person cashed the check, gave half to Wong and each deposited $2,500 into their personal banking accounts.
In July 2011, Wong deposited into his personal account a $5,613 check received from a jeweler as payment for the consignment sale of 14 pieces of jewelry and gold from another estate.
Between February 2011 and October 2011, the indictment states Yagi and Wong stored the locked filing cabinet containing valuables and documents from 19 different estates in the home of another deceased person whose assets were being handled by the Public Administrator.
Once the investigation started, Wong resigned in November 2011 followed by Yagi the next month.
The exact number of estates mishandled is still not known so the Health System can’t speculate on the value of the misappropriated assets, Thaw said.
The County Counsel’s Office has hired the law firm Fox-Shjeflo to help the Health System review its estates so that heirs and beneficiaries can be contacted about the possible theft.
Health System Director Jean Fraser said she is confident all estates referred to the division since Wong and Yagi’s absence have been handled appropriately.
Thames said controls and procedures used by the Health System in its other divisions — such as requiring different employees to review accounts and authorize checks — are what brought the thefts to light nearly immediately after the Public Administrator was transferred.
District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, whose office formerly oversaw the division, said his office has been very much involved in helping the Health System and federal investigation.
"We’ve cooperated throughout and appreciate their thorough efforts throughout. If indeed these two are guilty I hope they are punished within the full extent of the law,” Wagstaffe said.
Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, president of the Board of Supervisors, also said the county is committed to helping investigate and clean up the problems.
"Anytime somebody does something like this, we can’t tolerate it. It’s a breach of public faith and this is the lowest of the low,” Tissier said.
Yagi and Wong are both free from custody on $100,000 bonds and return to court June 27 to identify their attorneys.
Conviction of conspiracy to commit theft is a minimum of five years and the maximum for theft concerning a federally funded program is 10 years.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.