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$1.74 Million Judgement against Dabo, financial advisor and SBC Board of Education president

After a two hour trial, San Benito County Superior Judge Marjorie Laird Carter ruled against Dabo
Gary Byrne, CFFSBC executive director shakes hands after the judge's decision with foundation attorney John Clark.

After a five-year battle, a long time Hollister financial advisor must pay more than $1.7 million to the Community Foundation for San Benito County, a judge in Hollister ruled Monday, Nov 13.

Mitchell J. Dabo did not show up for the highly anticipated court showdown over a lawsuit filed in 2015 by the foundation for damages resulting from missing trust fund money.

The case was to determine if Dabo was liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars left to the foundation by the Tony and Barbara Matulich charitable trust, but instead he was alleged to have diverted the funds for his own use which included a Hollister real estate deal that went sour.

And there was testimony in court that suggested he might even have used some of the trust money to pay for his personal hair replacement treatments.

After CFFSBC attorney John Clark outlined the case against Dabo, it took San Benito County Superior Court Judge Marjorie Laird Carter less than a minute to announce her decision and rule against Dabo, who also is president of the San Benito County Board of Education.

She awarded the full amount the foundation was supposed to have been paid in 2012 after Barbara Matulich’s death, plus more than a half million dollars in accrued interest.

Mr. Matulich passed away in 2003, two years after the elderly couple created their trust fund to give them income in their later years and to benefit the community in which they’d been successful farmers for many decades.

Carter also allowed Clark’s request under state probate law for double damages, because the taking of funds was found to be willful and self-dealing.

It was unclear whether the civil case outcome will prompt criminal charges against Dabo, who has been in business for more than 30 years as The Dabo Financial Group and Mitch Dabo Associates.

The company motto is, “Sleep Well At Night Solutions.”

The subject of criminal proceedings was discussed very briefly by Clark and Carter after her ruling, when the CFFSBC attorney informed the judge that the San Benito County District Attorney Candice Hooper had been informed of the missing trust funds and Dabo’s failure to hand trust assets over to the foundation. Carter said the DA’s office had met with the foundation over the matter.

Hooper had earlier told BenitoLink that after looking at the foundation’s evidence, she had declined to pursue a criminal complaint against Dabo.

It’s unknown if she will now revisit the matter in light of the Monday court decision, or if the state Attorney General will open a criminal investigation, which it is empowered to do since being notified of the matter by Clark.

Reaction to the court decision was immediate and positive.

“Oh my gosh, that is just great,” said Matulich daughter Toni Brady, 67, of Hollister after hearing of the judge’s decision soon after it was rendered.

“I have chills,” she said, “It’s just what I wanted to hear; my parents would be so thrilled and I am just beside myself.”

The total judgment against Dabo was for $1,740,618.98. It includes the starting trust fund balance when Dabo took over its management in 2008, $643,599, minus $82,000 he paid to the foundation after it demanded its funds, and interest of nearly $309,000.

The total in principal and interest owed came to $870,309.49, which was then doubled, apparently largely because it’s against state law for a trustee to use trust funds for his own benefit or in any way that undermines a beneficiary’s interests, according to legal experts.

Dabo was accused of having done so, as Clark put it, “willfully” and in a self-dealing manner.

Clark, during the approximately two-hour court trial offered testimony about one situation in which a sum of trust fund money paid for, according to the paper trail, a “hair replacement,” but details of that and other Dabo financial dealings remain largely unknown, he told the court.

Often, the trust fund would be depleted to “zero,” he said, as Dabo moved funds in and out; at other times it would have $1.29 as the remaining balance, or as much as $1,000 in some cases after Dabo’s machinations.

That judgment figure also is likely to increase by close to $100,000 for the foundation’s legal fees, which will exceed the initial estimate of $80,000, according to Gary Byrne, CFFSBC executive director and chief executive officer.

Byrne was ecstatic after the verdict, and relieved about the message it sends to the community and potential donors to CFFSBC, which helps support dozens of small nonprofits in San Benito County.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said. The outcome, he added, shows that “…if you give to the foundation, we’re going to protect (the donation) to make sure the donor’s interest is honored.”

As the sole beneficiary of the Matulich Charitable Trust, the foundation had tried since 2012 when Mrs. Matulich passed away to secure the fund’s remaining assets.

Dabo, who was the trustee for the account, according to the lawsuit, did not inform them of her death and never produced a full accounting of where the funds went.

After several tries, Dabo did send a check for about $82,000, but claimed that was all that was left in the fund, according to Byrne’s testimony.

The case also has gone to court mediation twice, without a successful outcome.

At one point, Dabo offered to pay the foundation $50,000 a year for 10 years, but the CFFSBC board of directors rejected the offer because it wanted the full amount to which it was entitled and to insure the community that donations would be protected.

Byrne was the only witness at the Nov. 13 trial in San Benito County Superior Court.

In his offer of proof, CFFSBC attorney John Clark of Morgan Hill presented example after example of Dabo improperly diverting trust fund money to his personal use via an electronic link between the two accounts, while always paying Mrs. Matulich $3,000 a month as her income from the account. He said personal use by Dabo of the trust fund money was a violation of the law.

Clark said it’s still not known what much of the money was used for, but his comments at trial made it clear that at least $450,000 was given as unsecured loans to a business partner, Jack Tyler, of Hollister. They money was used by a partnership that included Dabo to buy real estate, which the partnership later defaulted on, according to Clark.

Tyler died soon after and his estate went into bankruptcy, according to testimony.

Clark said after the trial that he will now seek a formal order that Dabo pay the money and that the foundation will seek a full accounting of all of Dabo’s assets, including his home, in order to collect all the money the a court has now determined is owned to the foundation by Dabo.

Dabo has been an elected county school board member since the 1990s and has often spoken at graduation ceremonies.

He has in the past declined to discuss the case with BenitoLink.

A second trial began right after the first to determine if a $40,000 loan from the trust fund to Dabo’s business partners must be repaid to the foundation. The plaintiff and attorney in that case were in court.

 

About:
Jack Foley (jackmfoley)

Jack Foley is a veteran journalist on the BenitoLink team. Foley is a Pulitzer co-winner for the San Jose Mercury News staff’s coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. He was also nominated for a Pulitzer by the Center for Public Interest Law for a highly-lauded series that exposed California’s lax policing of bad doctors. He is an experienced investigative reporter who worked for the San Jose Mercury News for more than 20 years. Foley covered San Benito County news on and off throughout his professional career. In addition to his more than three decades in journalism as a reporter, photojournalist and editor, Foley also has taught news writing at Gavilan College, worked in the nonprofit, affordable housing field, including in San Benito County, and has done high level public affairs work for NASA.

Comments

It's too little and it's certainly too late, but why doesn't Mr. Dabo try to salvage an iota of honorable conduct and immediately resign from the SBC Board of Education?

If the electorate wanted to go through with the expense and bother of a recall election he'd be out of there, but some rules do exist concerning those actions depending on when his term ends in 2018.

I don't know if he'll be criminally charged, but this judgment against him makes it clear that he failed in his legal and moral fiduciary responsibility at great cost to the community and his client.  That should be disqualifying in the minds of the voters.

Marty Richman

 

Based on this judgment, the San Benito County Grand Jury should investigate and audit the finances of the San Benito County Board of Education for as long as Dabo has served as an elected official as well as any financial dealings Dabo may have had with any other local government agency now or in the past.

Any charitable organization, especially scholastic booster clubs for extracurricular activities in San Benito County, who has done business with Mitch Dabo or entrusted him with stewardship of funds should hire an attorney to investigate potential financial improprieties. 

 

Submitted by (Bill) on

Only in San Benito County can you steal $1.7 million dollars, have a court case confirm you did and our DA doesn't have the staff or the money to pursue criminal cases! But the BOS(Board of Supervisors) and CAO were willing to spend $575,000 on Salary increases for the BOS. Where is the rule of Law in San Benito? Do a crime but don't worry about prosecution because we can't afford to prosecute you

In fairness, the District Attorney's office deserves the opportunity to account for its criminal investigation process regarding Mr. Dabo. The civil judgment may, in fact, provide evidence and facts to the DA that were not previously available to that agency and now law enforcement to investigate.

I wrote an email to Mr. Gil Solorio, CEO of the San Benito County Superior Court, requesting that the county Grand Jury investigate and/or audit any local government agencies with which Dabo may have done business.

Here is the text of that email: 

  • Dear Mr. Solorio,

    The County Board of Education is the policy making body of the San Benito County Office of Education. Its president, Mitch Dabo, was found liable for a $1.7 million dollar judgment for misappropriation of funds as a fiduciary by the San Benito County Superior Court, according to a report in Benito Link today. https://benitolink.com/news/174-million-judgement-against-dabo-financial...

    Based on this judgment, I suggest the San Benito County Grand Jury investigate and/or audit the County Board of Education or any other local government agency with which Mr. Dabo has had business dealings in order to protect taxpayers from fraud or fiduciary abuse of power or authority now or in the past for which Mr. Dabo may be responsible.

    Thank you for your consideration of this SBC Grand Jury inquiry request.

Submitted by (Bill) on

Lots of luck with the Grand Jury. The BOS (Board of Supervisors) decorate the Grand Jury with its reduction in pay and its inability to investigate anything. The GJ can't go to investigate, and everything has to come to them, and they have no space of their own. The BOS reduced their salary to the lowest of any other county in California. Yes, we are the lowest paying GJ! Nice honor! Please read last year's Grand Jury report especially the Head of the Grand Jury about how hard it is to form a jury and to get people to work on it.

Also, Gil has nothing to do with the Grand Jury. If you want them to investigate file a complaint on the Grand Jury website. Don't hold your breath for much. The BOS actions have reduced it to a nothing jury.

Submitted by (Debi Mahler) on

And don’t you dare let the judge know you want to bring the grand jury up to legal operating standards as dictated by the California grand jury association. He will ask you to please not serve another year! Been there done that.

Submitted by Mitch Dabo (mitchdabo) on

I made a big mistake not being at the trial, but I did not want to be in court without representation. The other side slanted everything their way. I loaned Tyler $490,000 we were not in a partnership at the time. He was going to use the money to finish a custom home that he was building. At the time of the loan there was over 2 million in equity.  When he had difficulties paying the interest he was in the process of refinancing the properties, but unfortunately he died before doing that. Even with R/E prices plummeting there would have enough to pay back the loan.  The partnership borrowed money from a private lender to buy the other property and one of the partners took it over after Tyler died.  Trust money was never used and the partnership never defaulted. With Mrs. Matulich’s permission I did transfer money into my account, but I always promptly put it back.  For instance, I transferred $2700 and put it back 2 days later, she was okay with that.  When interest came in it was given to Mrs. M, when enough payments came in Mrs. M’s life ins was paid (indirectly). Many times acct balances were close to zero, because everything was paid out. When the Matulich’s set up their Trust SBCCF was not the beneficiary, they had made Monterey CO Comm Foundation the beneficiary, so when Mr. Matulich died the beneficiary was MCCF.  When Tyler stopped payments, I used principal to continue to pay Mrs. M’s interest and life ins prem and annual tax exps.  Tyler was a good man, but cancer took him quickly.  I made a costly mistake in not securing the money and I take full responsibility for that.  But all of the false and twisted stmts are exactly that. I am so sorry to everyone that is affected by this.

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