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Déjà Vu: Another AZ Public Fiduciary Charged In Thefts

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MAY 14, 2001 VOLUME 8, NUMBER 46

In 1997 a rural Arizona county Public Fiduciary stunned the state’s advocacy community when he acknowledged taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from his ward’s estates (“Mohave Public Fiduciary Pleads Guilty, Faces Certain Jail Time“). Thefts by private fiduciaries (and lawyers representing fiduciaries) are all too common, but everyone blithely assumed that public officials would be more closely monitored, and unlikely to steal.

Now an Arizona Auditor General’s report charges that another Public Fiduciary methodically stole from her wards’ estates. This time the subject of investigation is Rita Riell-Corbin, who served as Gila County Public Fiduciary until December, 1999.

According to the Auditor General’s report Ms. Riell-Corbin began taking money from estates entrusted to her as early as 1994. Over the next six years she converted at least $1,177,884 to her own benefit, the report charges.

Ms. Riell-Corbin was the Public Fiduciary in rural Gila County (county seat Globe, Arizona) from 1986 until her removal from the position. She oversaw a staff of 4 other employees and managed a caseload of something less than 100 wards and decedents. Her financial misdeeds affected at least 40 of her wards. Not surprisingly, she targeted those cases in which there were no family members likely to challenge her expenditures. In some of the decedent’s estates she took money that would otherwise have gone to one of her living wards.

During the six-year period investigated by the Auditor General’s office Ms. Riell-Corbin used her wards’ money to pay for improvement of homes she owned, for her own insurance and telephone bills, and to make monthly payments on credit cards used extensively for personal and family purposes. She personally wrote checks for those types of expenditures in excess of $750,000.

The Auditor General’s report charges that Ms. Riell-Corbin is not the only person culpable in this latest fiduciary abuse. County officials supervising the Public Fiduciary’s office, the attorney representing the office, and the Superior Court (which must approve all fiduciary accountings) also breached their fiduciary duties, according to the report. The report alleges that all “failed to act when they knew, or should have known, of the Public Fiduciary’s improper activities.”

Ms. Riell-Corbin has been charged with eight counts of theft, fraudulent schemes, misuse of public money, conflict of interest and perjury. Those charges were finally leveled April 26, 2001, sixteen months after her schemes were first discovered. Sorting through bank records and reviewing account information (Ms. Riell-Corbin apparently routinely destroyed copies of checks issued for her own and her family’s benefit) was a massive and complicated undertaking, substantially slowing the investigation.

The Auditor General’s report is available online at the office’s website at Look for its “Investigative Report: Theft and Misuse of Public Monies by the Gila County Public Fiduciary.”

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.