8 Fresno County employees accused of stealing from the dead

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The time for accounting is coming for eight people accused of stealing from the dead in a scandal that rocked the Fresno County public administrator's office. (KFSN)

The time for accounting is coming for eight people accused of stealing from the dead in a scandal that rocked the Fresno County public administrator's office.

Prosecutors say four county employees and four friends or family members combined to steal more than $120,000 from people who passed away. But the county has already paid out more than $150,000 in taxpayer money to 52 estates investigators found had come up short.

Before Fresno County's departed reach the grave, many of them pass through the public administrator's office. But for years, investigators say many of their belongings never left.

"This is a situation where a government agency was just run amok with corruption," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "It's a terrible abuse of trust to the public."

Six of the people accused of stealing from the dead pleaded not guilty, including the government's chief target, Noe Jimenez. Prosecutors charged him with 22 felonies after the investigation revealed he took cash and jewels from estates.

In an arrest warrant uncovered by Action News, investigators say Jimenez admitted to stealing property, pawning it, and using the money to pay for prostitutes. His defense attorney just got the case and hasn't reviewed the evidence yet, but the Jimenez he's met is a different person than the one dismissed from the public administrator's office two years ago.

"He's a very decent human being who may have made a serious mistake," said defense attorney Daniel Bacon.

Bacon says there may be statute of limitations issues with the case, and he'll check whether his client made a voluntary confession, but he may ultimately have to settle the case.

Jimenez isn't the only county employee to confess. Investigators say Ree Bruce also admitted stealing property from estates.

But legal analyst Tony Capozzi says the investigation doesn't hinge on confessions.

"They searched homes, found things that were allegedly taken, that were admitted to being taken," Capozzi said. "They went into bank accounts, found different documents there, so the case is pretty strong."

All the defendants are due back in court in three months and by then, the defense attorneys should have a better grasp on exactly what their clients did, so they can start negotiating with prosecutors on punishment and repayment.

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