DAYTON - Lyon County's former public administrator waived his preliminary hearing Thursday in Dayton Justice Court in preparation for an April plea to stealing from the estate of a decedent.
Defense Attorney Ken Ward announced that his client, Jason McLean, 35, would be pleading to one count of felony embezzlement. In exchange for the plea, the remaining three counts would be dismissed.
In all, McLean is accused of stealing $16,000 from three separate estates.
District Attorney Bob Auer noted that McLean would also be responsible for any restitution due to families during the course of his tenure as administrator.
An economist for the state of Nevada, McLean was elected to the unpaid office of public administrator in November 2006. The office was vacated in February when McLean was unable to secure additional insurance.
As public administrator, he secured the money and property of a deceased person if an heir was not immediately apparent and with court approval, administered the estate.
But a police investigation determined that McLean was helping himself to the bank accounts and property of those who had died, court records indicate.
"That's like grave robbing," said Doug Jones of Seattle outside the Dayton courthouse on Thursday. He and his brother Derrick of Cragsmoor, N.Y., were flown in by the county to testify on behalf of their uncle Joseph Winfield, who died at his Roughin It Road home in May 2006.
One of the original charges against McLean alleged that he took nearly $3,000 from Winfield's estate.
"What he did is appalling," Jones said.
Derrick Jones was disappointed that he didn't get a chance to speak to the judge.
"I wanted to say something but the main thing for me was being here to see him," he said.
Diane Ashe's daughter, Julie Kristian, of Dayton, fought with McLean for months over control of her mother's estate.
McLean allegedly took $9,900 from Ashe's bank account to purchase a Harley Davidson. His plea in Lyon County District Court in April will be to the theft of Ashe's money.
Though the penalty carries one to six years in prison, Kristian and the others agreed: "He won't even go to jail," Kristian said.
Terri Altman was brought by Auer from Texas to testify to her dealings with McLean over the estate of her father, William Tulley. Tulley died in his Fernley home in June 2006.
"I know this sounds horrible, but I felt a smidgen bad for him, in the respect that he made such a stupid mistake," she said after hearing McLean was ready to admit his guilt.
McLean will be responsible for repaying $3,159.78 to Tulley's estate.
Auer said that with McLean's lack of criminal history, it's possible that he may get probation, but the plea agreement that has been reached doesn't preclude Auer from arguing for prison time.
"It's bad enough that your loved one dies, and you live somewhere else and you have to deal with a stranger, but then you get ripped off. That's just too much to bear," he said. "I hope this provides some confidence to people that when public officials abuse their trust, we are going to try to stop them and do something about it. We won't ignore it."
Auer said McLean's situation, and a pending civil lawsuit against McLean's predecessor, Dick Glover, with similar allegations, makes it clear that the position of public administrator needs to be reworked.
"The state legislator should look at the whole position. It's almost set up for failure, there should be some sort of specific salary instead of fees coming out of estates upon court approval. It's a recipe for failure," he said.
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.