Prosecutors are requesting the maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison, restitution and a fine of more than $1 million for Jo Ann Dearman, 62, who in April pleaded guilty to 10 counts of felony embezzlement. The former finance chief of the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District and her ex-bookkeeper Vika Sinipata, 37, were both convicted of stealing more than $450,000 of public funds from their workplace from 2009 to 2011. Sinipata, who pleaded no contest to 12 felony counts in February, faces up to eight years in prison.
“Sinipata may have committed more acts in terms of submitting fraudulent forms or accounting, but there’s no question in our mind that Dearman was the heavyweight and the mastermind,” said Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher.
In a court appearance last week, Dearman offered a restitution payment of $200,000 and promised $50,000 more in hopes of receiving leniency. She may, however, first be ordered to put that money toward restitution for two previous embezzlement convictions, according to Gallagher.
“Our position is that she deserves every day of whatever that maximum sentence is,” Gallagher said. “It’s impossible to find anything mitigating about this woman.”
Dearman and Sinipata gave themselves higher pay and excess time off, racked up personal charges on district credit cards and transferred money to themselves from government expense accounts. The women also inflated contributions to their deferred compensation funds as part of the scam.
The fraudulent activity came to light when the organization’s board of trustees launched an investigation into an unauthorized $150,000 expenditure from a fund for pesticides, prompting an audit by the county counsel’s office.
The pest control agency also has come under fire for failing to conduct a thorough background check on Dearman when she was hired in 2009 under the alias Joanne Seeney.
At the time, a criminal background check on prospective employees was not standard policy, though one would have revealed that Dearman was fighting charges of embezzling money from two previous employers, including $550,000 from a medical supply company in Foster City. The other case involved $49,177 taken from Mark de Bibo & Co., a general contractor from Woodside.
Dearman was later convicted of those charges and served two years in prison.
The district has since implemented a background check requirement and will likely recoup its losses through an insurance claim.
The county counsel office’s estimate of the total restitution amount, which includes compensation for investigative and legal costs, is upward of $700,000. Dearman and Sinipata “will both be ordered for the full amount jointly and severally,” Gallagher said.
Dearman’s attorney has said his client took the money to help cover expenses associated with a bitter divorce proceeding and intended to pay it back.