Woman charged with memorial fund embezzlement
Deputy District Attorney Ken Tribby filed an embezzlement charge Thursday against a Grass Valley woman accused of using funds donated to another person’s memorial account for her own personal gain.
Tribby signed off on the charge against Laura Mostajo Thursday afternoon, he said. A story in The Union Thursday morning reported relatives of the late Robby Johnston said money was missing from the Penn Valley man’s memorial fund.
Mostajo told investigators earlier this month she used about $2,500 from Johnston’s memorial account to pay her rent, Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said.
Johnston was killed in a car accident on Highway 20 with his fiancee, Trula Middleton, on Jan. 5. A few days later, Mostajo established the “Memorial Fund for Robby Johnston” at Citizens Bank in Grass Valley.
Mostajo, who formerly was married to Johnston’s brother, contacted The Union with the account information and asked the community to donate to help with the family’s funeral expenses.
Johnston’s stepfather, Lance Smith, said Wednesday he and his wife were too grief-stricken to handle the details of setting up an account, so he was glad to have Mostajo’s help.
Because Mostajo has two children with Johnston’s brother, the family always had made an effort to include her in family activities after the couple’s divorce, Smith said.
Several of Smith’s co-workers, local service clubs and friends of Johnston’s donated to the fund, with deposits totaling $3,587, Smith and Royal said.
Smith and his wife Sherri – Johnston’s mother – had access to the account for about a month, but suddenly they were unable to withdraw funds, Smith said.
The family tried to contact Mostajo. When she didn’t return calls, they went to the Sheriff’s Office, he said.
During the course of the sheriff’s investigation, the remaining funds in the account were frozen, and he does not have access to them, Smith said.
“I have not seen this kind of thing happen before,” Citizens Bank Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Behn said Thursday. “People should know, though, that if you’re setting up a trust account, the family should be involved if they are capable.”
If the family is not emotionally prepared to establish a fund, a “truly trusted friend, acquaintance or business associate” should handle establishing the account, Behn said.
Mostajo’s arraignment date has not been set, according to court staff.
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