Friday, March 16, 2012

San Mateo County: Civil grand jury may pass on mosquito district investigation

by Michelle Durand - Daily Journal Staff - March 16, 2012
The civil grand jury’s current docket is full so any investigation into the county’s mosquito abatement district and the alleged embezzlement of more than $400,000 by its former finance director may have to wait until the next term.

The city of San Carlos asked the civil grand jury late last month to look at the district’s management and overall operations as well as the circumstances surrounding the alleged embezzlement. In a March 13 response to Mayor Andy Klein, jury foreperson Bruce E. MacMillan said the body will review the request but added “our current docket is full.” MacMillan also acknowledged “the serious and important nature of the matters you raise.”

Klein said he was “pretty disheartened” by the response because he doesn’t “understand what could be bigger than civic corruption” but concedes not knowing what else the jury has on its plate.

Jury investigations are confidential until it releases reports with conclusions and recommendations.

Klein and other San Carlos councilmembers had hoped the civil grand jury could shine some light on the district which has remained relatively mum since news broke of the alleged embezzlement.

Prosecutors say former finance director Jo Ann Seeney, 61, who worked under the last name Dearman, and accounting assistant Vika Sinipata, 35, embezzled the funds between 2009 and 2011 by giving themselves extra pay at a higher rate and fraudulent time off, excessively contributed to their deferred compensation funds, used credit cards for personal purchases and electronically transferred money into their own accounts. An audit reported more than $635,000 was missing, much of it in the last fiscal year. The district contacted the County Counsel’s Office which in turn handed the matter to the District Attorney’s Office which charged them with stealing more than $450,000. The district’s numbers might be closer to the actual loss but prosecutors are only alleging the amount they can prove, according to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

In the wake, several officials have voiced a desire for information but only San Carlos took the formal step of contacting the civil grand jury and asking other cities and the county to follow suit. San Carlos’ representative to the board, Betsey Schneider, was the one who helped uncover the alleged embezzlement by questioning expenses in the district’s pesticide account.

At the time of Seeney’s employment, she had been prosecuted in two different embezzlement cases, including one in which she ran up more than a half-million dollars on her boss’ credit card. In March 2010, she was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison on the two cases and ordered to pay restitution.

She was transferred back to San Mateo County from prison to face eight new counts of embezzling public money along with Sinipata. She has finished the prison term and wants to post $250,000 bail but first authorities must review the funds’ source to make sure the money isn’t connected to any of her confirmed or alleged crimes.

Sinipata is being held in lieu of $150,000.

Both are due in court March 19 for the bail review and to set a preliminary hearing.

If the civil grand jury does investigate and issue a report on the district, it is under no legal obligation to abide by recommendations or findings. However, recipients must respond in writing within 90 days.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650)344-5200 ext.102

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