MAY 19, 1997 VOLUME 4, NUMBER 46
Michael Daw, Mohave County, Arizona, Public Fiduciary until his indictment on fraud charges in February of this year, has pled guilty to eight felony counts of theft. Investigators allege that the 53-year-old county official embezzled more than $870,000 from wards and estates handled by his office.
Arizona law requires each county to appoint an official to make financial and medical decisions for incapacitated and deceased persons where no family or friends are available to act. The office, called the Public Fiduciary, is similar to public guardians, public administrators and public conservators in other states. Mohave County is in the northwest corner of Arizona, and shares a lengthy border with Nevada. The county seat is Kingman.
Daw, who had served as Mohave County Public Fiduciary since January 1, 1992, was first served with a search warrant at his Kingman home on January 9, 1997, after a month-long investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. Among the discoveries by the Attorney General’s investigators: Daw had previously been charged with theft while serving as an assistant to the San Mateo County, California, office of Public Guardian. Apparently, Daw failed to disclose his history to Mohave’s County Manager at the time he was initially hired.
According to the Attorney General’s office, Daw systematically looted multiple accounts beginning as early as July, 1993. An example of the charges against Daw cited by the Attorney General’s office is the probate estate of Margaret McGowan.
When Margaret McGowan died in Kingman in December, 1993, she left an estate of $41,198.16 and no close relatives. Her estate should have passed to her cousin, William Allgrun, in Gig Harbor, Washington. Allgrun learned of his cousin’s death within a few days from a neighbor, and was referred to Daw by a Kingman priest. When he contacted Daw, he was told that Ms. McGowan had died penniless, and that the Public Fiduciary’s office would be handling burial arrangements and wrapping up her affairs.
In fact, Daw apparently transferred McGowan’s estate to a separate account in his own name as Personal Representative, and proceeded to hand write checks on that account. In March, 1995, he filed an affidavit with the Mohave County Superior Court indicating that he had distributed all her remaining assets to McGowan’s heirs, and the Court file was closed. Precisely where the money actually went is apparently not known.
At about the same time, Daw was known to have developed a reputation as a “high roller” in the casinos in Laughlin, across the Nevada state line. Daw also purchased two new vehicles during 1995, apparently paying cash of about $50,000.
Daw’s guilty plea will mean that he spends 10 years in prison. In addition, he will be ordered to pay restitution to Mohave County (individual estates will presumably look to the County to pay back money taken by Daw using his official status) of at least $873,000 but not more than $1.5 million. Daw has already agreed to forfeit all his assets to the County to begin the process of repaying the amounts misappropriated.
Daw was originally charged with 78 counts of theft, forgery and fraudulent schemes. With his guilty plea to eight of those charges, the remaining 70 counts will be dismissed. Although he retains little discretion as to what sentence to impose, Judge Steven Conn has scheduled the formal sentencing hearing for June 6.
Several Mohave County officials have expressed dismay at Daw’s plea agreement. Objections were registered by the entire Mohave County Board of Supervisors, the elected officials responsible for hiring and overseeing Daw’s work. Members of that body have indicated that they hope to continue the investigation of the Public Fiduciary’s office, partly to make sure that no other employees were aware of Daw’s actions.