Rita Riell-Corbin, who as the Gila County fiduciary was entrusted with the finances of 100 elderly or incapacitated county residents, was indicted Monday on charges of embezzling more than $1.177 million.
"There have been other cases of embezzlement by public fiduciaries around the state, but I think (Riell-Corbin) tops the list, money-wise," Gila County Dist. 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said.
Riell-Corbin, charged with using public money for at least five years to supplement her $33,453-a-year county salary, was indicted by a state grand jury following an Arizona Auditor General's investigation.
She was fired in January 2000.
"It's unfortunate," Christensen said. "I don't know how you know when you hire someone if they're going to do something like this. Fiduciaries are supposed to be trusted people."
Public fiduciaries are responsible for managing the estates of people who the court has deemed incapable of handling their own affairs due to physical or mental impairment.
"She was always this 'Mother Theresa-type' person," Christensen said. "She was always talking about taking care of 'her' people ... taking them to the store, to the beauty shop, doing things like that for 'her' people."
In January 2000,the Gila County Attorney's office asked the Auditor General's office to investigate allegations of financial misconduct by the former Gila County public fiduciary.
During the course of their investigation, state auditors discovered evidence that Riell-Corbin had used at least $750,159 for her personal use and blew another $209,996 of her wards' money by "practicing nonfeasance," and failing to protect the wards' interests.
"And what's really amazing is that she was not an extravagant person," Christensen said. "She didn't dress extravagant; she didn't drive a fancy car. So where's the money?"
According to the Auditor General's report, Riell-Corbin used the money to pay for credit cards and personal telephone bills, to make home improvements and to pay for insurance policies. She wrote nearly 700 checks totaling more than $750,000.
"Ms. Riell-Corbin further misused public monies when she paid her family members for services supposedly provided to the wards," the Auditor General's office reported. "She also used certain wards' money for other wards' benefit and failed to pay mandated county fees. As a result of her embezzlement and other misuse of wards' monies, the wards lost interest earnings."
In addition, as of January 1994, the auditor general found $217,729 missing from the wards' accounts money that will never be accounted for, since bank records were not available prior to that. Christensen said Riell-Corbin was allegedly able to pocket the money because she was largely unsupervised.
"She's pretty much on her own," Christensen said, "and made monthly reports in front of the judge, swearing that the numbers were accurate. That's why she's also charged with perjury."
Her department also is audited by the state each year, and for 13 years she passed her inspections, he said.
"I don't know how she did it," he said.
Despite the alleged theft, Gila County Attorney Jim Hazel said none of the residents in the county's care were affected. The county's insurance carrier reimbursed the missing funds, "so individuals didn't suffer any losses," he said.
The county's insurance carrier has covered several hefty Gila County claims during the past year, not only for alleged thefts by the county's former public fiduciary, but other departments as well.
"And, they haven't raised our premium yet," Christensen said, "But I'm sure they're going to be looking at it."
As for the county's financial checks and balances, Christensen said the system will be improved. County supervisors will meet Tuesday with department heads to discuss new control measures for the public fiduciary.
Riell-Corbin will be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Monday, May 14 at the Gila County Courthouse in Globe. She faces 11 counts of fraud, theft, misuse of public funds, conflict of interest and perjury.
Alleged credit card corruption
According to the Arizona Auditor General's office, former Gila County fiduciary Rita Riell-Corbin allegedly used much of the money she stole from her wards to pay for charges and cash advances that she made on her personal credit cards. She wrote 493 checks totaling $665,772 directly from wards' accounts to seven of her major credit card accounts. Listed below is the Auditor General's description of how Riell-Corbin used those credit cards.
$204,925 Cash advances and other charges related to casinos in Las Vegas and in Arizona.
$145,000 to husband's credit card Used to purchase electronic equipment, recreational vehicle and automobile repair and service, home improvement materials, major appliances, and household furniture.
$118,235 Airplane tickets, hotel rooms, restaurant bills, amusement park expenses during trips to California, Alaska, Missouri and Colorado. Trips were taken about every other month, and Riell-Corbin was joined by her husband, children, grandchildren, in-laws and friends.
$100,000 Given to daughter and son-in-law for their food, clothing, gasoline and medical expenses.
$400 a month The amount wasted each month in transaction fees and finance charges.
Other purchases included an acrylic spa, jewelry, movies, meals at Valley restaurants, gasoline, groceries, clothing, shoes, and general merchandise.