MERCED — A former contract court investigator is in hot water after officials say she allegedly billed Merced County Superior Court thousands of dollars for work she didn't perform.
Michelle Clare Pomicpic, 40, is charged with 14 felony counts, accused of using her investigator position to intentionally defraud the court. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The alleged offenses happened between March 2010 and January 2011. The criminal charges were filed last month after an internal investigation by the Merced County Superior Court and the Merced County Sheriff's Department.
Pomicpic's contracted duties with the court included investigating probate guardianship and conservatorship cases, which required her to do home visits with conservatees. The court would pay Pomicpic for investigation and research fees per case, according to a Sheriff's Department report.
But in January 2011, a court processing clerk discovered that Pomicpic had filed an invoice where she claimed to have done a home visit with someone who previously had a conservatorship. However, the person Pomicpic claimed to have had visited was dead.
An audit performed by court investigators found $26,434 worth of discrepancies on 19 invoices Pomicpic submitted to the court.
Investigators reported finding 33 instances on 12 invoices where Pomicpic charged the court for conservatorship visits and duties where the conservatee had died. In some of those cases, the conservatee had been dead for more than 10 years.
According to the sheriff's report, the audit also found instances where Pomicpic billed for services and no mandatory report was filed, as required by state probate code. There were also instances of billings for guardianships and conservatorships not under court investigator supervision, in addition to multiple billings on the same case.
Sheriff's Detective Aaron Rosenberg contacted Pomicpic after the court conducted its audit. When Rosenberg asked Pomicpic about the invoices involving conservatees who'd died, she claimed the court hadn't been made aware of those people, claiming it took a court investigator to make that determination.
Pomicpic told Rosenberg that when a conservatee had died, she'd mark that person off the list and wouldn't do a review the following year. But Rosenberg told Pomicpic it was his understanding that anyone who did a conservatorship review was required to file a report with the court. Pomicpic said she'd been too busy with conservatorship reviews at the time, and didn't have time to keep up with the reports.
Rosenberg pointed out to Pomicpic that she'd claimed to have spoken to people in her reviews who wanted to continue their conservatorships — even though those people were dead. "Pomicpic told me that she would have to see those reports and she couldn't imagine that was the case," Rosenberg wrote in his report. "Pomicpic went on to say she could see one or two which have been a mistake, but it couldn't have been 33."
Pomicpic also told the detective there were times when a conservatorship would have to continue even after the person had died. "I explained to Pomicpic that on some of these people there had been paperwork filed with the courts ending their conservatorship," Rosenberg wrote in his report. "Pomicpic again told me that she would again have to see that paperwork."
Attorney Michael Fagalde, who's representing Pomicpic, said he couldn't comment in depth about the allegations, saying the court case is in its early stages. Fagalde said his client denies the claims. "There's more to it than what's she's accused of," he said.
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II asked Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas Cooke to handle the case in order to avoid a conflict of interest. Morse said the defendant at one time had an internship in his office.
Bringing in outside judgeA judge also will be brought from outside Merced County to hear the case, in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, according to court documents.
Cooke said Pomicpic could receive a state prison sentence if convicted, although she'd probably serve that sentence in the local jail system. Cooke said he doesn't know the maximum penalty Pomicpic would face, if convicted.
"I think it's pretty clear she was saying she was doing things she couldn't (have done), because those people weren't there," Cooke said. "Those reports are false — and that's demonstrated by the fact these people had passed away."
Fagalde, Pomicpic's attorney, said his client has no prior criminal background, and recently graduated from the Laurence Drivon School of Law at Humphreys College in Stockton.
Pomicpic was hired by the Merced County Superior Court as a contract court investigator from May 2000 until August 2007. She was a full-time employee with benefits from August 2007 until February 2010, according to Linda Romero Soles, court executive officer at the Merced County Superior Court.
The defendant requested to work again as a contract employee in February 2010, and she worked in that capacity until December 2010. The court opted not to renew Pomicpic's contract in January 2011 after the discrepancies were found, according to the sheriff's report.
Prior to working in Merced County, Pomicpic worked as legal processing clerk in Stanislaus County. Romero Soles said she couldn't comment specifically on the allegations Pomicpic faces.
Pomicpic is free on her own recognizance. She is scheduled to appear in court Friday for a pre-preliminary hearing.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.