Woman accused of defrauding dying neighbor
A McKeesport woman has been arraigned on charges she forged documents to take control of her dying neighbor's estate, bank account and end-of-life decisions, according to an Allegheny County grand jury presentation filed Friday.
Mary Mechelli, 54, of Scott Street was released on her own recognizance to await a preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 13.
Mechelli is accused of theft, forgery, providing unsworn falsification to authorities, tampering with public records or information and insurance fraud. McKeesport police said they arrested her early Friday morning.
Those accusations were filed in connection with actions involving Margaret Dorn between July 2010 and February 2012.
Dorn, who lived down the street from Mechelli, died of sepsis in Select Specialty Hospital in McKeesport on May 1, 2010, at the age of 79.
According to the findings of an Allegheny County investigating grand jury issued last week, Mechelli falsely presented herself as having power of attorney for Dorn to health care providers, a funeral home, an insurance company and others, before and after Dorn's death.
The matter came to the attention of authorities in November 2010 when a man who was renting Dorn's old house from Mechelli was told by neighbors that Mechelli was not the owner of the property. The tenant said he found Dorn's checkbook and clothing in drawers and became suspicious.
Mechelli — who collected $9,400 in rent from the man before having him evicted in February 2012 — presented him with a letter prepared by her attorney, Michael Carr of the law firm Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace, asserting the house did belong to her. According to court records, the Scott Street property was legally owned by Dorn's late parents and the residence was never properly transferred to her.
According to the grand jury, Mechelli began presenting herself as holding power of attorney for Dorn one day after Dorn was admitted to UPMC McKeesport in March 2010.
Mechelli's name was on other documents granting her power to serve as Dorn's agent while she was sick and after her death, as were the signatures of Carr and another former employee of his firm, Christopher Zwilcher. The signature of Tammy Findlay, the firm's notary, also appeared on documents, officials indicated.
The authenticity of Dorn's signature on the living will has been called into question by investigators, who noted that hospital records say she was confused and anxious on the date it was purportedly signed, two days after her admission. A like-signed and dated last will and testament gained the attention of investigators because Dorn's first name was misspelled in the signature as “Margret.”
After Dorn spent six days in the hospital, she was transferred to Select Specialty Hospital in McKeesport and on March 30, 2010, consented to have limited resuscitation measures used in the event of an emergency, the presentment indicated. Mechelli signed an order as Dorn's power of attorney one month later, changing that status to “do not resuscitate,” according to the grand jury report.
Findlay testified under a grant of immunity, accordiing to the report, that she notarized the documents in question even though she did not personally see Dorn sign them nor did she have a certificate from the attorney attesting to the authenticity of the signatures
Zwilcher, who was a mailroom employee, no longer works for the firm and could not be reached by the grand jury, according to the report.
Carr, when reached at the firm for comment on Friday, said he could not discuss the matter because of attorney/client privilege. Carr did say, however, that the firm no longer represents Mechelli.
The McKeesport woman is accused of taking a total of $3,761.98 from Dorn's bank account while she was hospitalized or after her death. Investigators noted there was a questionable signature from Dorn on a life insurance policy application that made Mechelli the beneficiary, a policy that eventually resulted in Mechelli receiving a $1,764 check.
Allegheny County District Attorney's office spokesman Mike Manko said he could not go into specifics as to whether there would be additional people charged in connection with the case, but did say, “This remains an active and ongoing investigation.”
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed to this story.