A McKeesport woman was arrested Friday, accused of concocting an elaborate scheme to take control of her elderly neighbor's bank account and property and to collect money from the woman after she died.
According to a 13-page grand jury presentment, the scheme included obtaining a power of attorney for the woman; creating a fake will; and renting out the dead woman's home for 1 1/2 years to collect rent.
Mary Mechelli, 54, of 1306 Scott St., is charged with theft, theft by deception, forgery, insurance fraud, tampering with public records and lying under oath following a 13-month Allegheny County grand jury investigation.
Ms. Mechelli was freed on her own recognizance. A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 13. Her attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said he couldn't comment.
According to a spokesman for the district attorney's office, the case is still under investigation.
The inquiry into Ms. Mechelli first began when a man, who rented a home from her at 1311 Scott St. in McKeesport for $475 per month, learned that she was not the owner of the property.
Instead, an elderly woman, Margaret Dorn, lived there until she died on May 1, 2010, at the age of 79. The house was still listed in county tax records as being owned by Dorn's parents.
When the renter, who had moved in in July 2010, began to question whether Ms. Mechelli owned the property, she sent him a letter, dated Feb. 6, 2012, purporting to show ownership. It was written by attorney Michael Carr, of Jones, Gregg, Creehan & Gerace.
Two weeks later, the renter was evicted from the property by Ms. Mechelli.
She had collected $9,400 from him in rent, police said.
According to the grand jury presentment, the man who rented the property said that when he first moved in, it was fully furnished, and there was still clothing in the drawers. He also found a checkbook and two pistols that he returned to Ms. Mechelli.
Police said the scheme began around March 24, 2010, when Dorn was admitted to the hospital after falling down the steps at her home.
Ms. Mechelli signed a consent for treatment as Dorn's power of attorney on March 25, hospital records show, even though the document giving her that power was not dated until the following day.
Mr. Carr, the same attorney who wrote the letter allegedly showing Ms. Mechelli owned Dorn's home, also signed the power of attorney.
After Dorn was moved to another hospital, Ms. Mechelli signed a "do not resuscitate" order as power of attorney on April 30, and Dorn died the next day of sepsis.
According to the presentment, Ms. Mechelli contacted the funeral home handling Dorn's body and requested "immediate cremation." She presented a will, but because it was not witnessed, Ms. Mechelli was told she needed to provide complete documentation.
The next day, she provided another copy of the will by fax, dated March 26, from Mr. Carr, witnessed by him and another person from his firm, Christopher Zwilcher.
Investigators noted that Dorn's first name in the signature was misspelled on the will.
The will bequeaths all of Dorn's property to Ms. Mechelli and names her as executrix.
According to detectives, Dorn's only relative was a niece.
Throughout the course of the investigation, detectives obtained Dorn's bank records, and found another power of attorney, also dated March 26, 2010, giving Ms. Mechelli control of the woman's bank account.
She accessed the account 19 times to withdraw money between March 29 and July 27, 2010, police said, when the account was closed and the money transferred into an estate account for Dorn.
The total amount spent by Ms. Mechelli out of Dorn's account, the presentment said, was $3,761.98.
Further, Ms. Mechelli applied for a $10,000 life insurance policy on Dorn, making herself the beneficiary, dated April 14, 2010. United of Omaha Life Insurance Co. approved Dorn for only $1,764, and Ms. Mechelli received a check in that amount.
The woman who notarized the powers of attorney and wills Ms. Mechelli signed, Tammy Findlay, who worked at Mr. Carr's law firm, testified under a grant of immunity.
She told the grand jury that Mr. Zwilcher worked at the firm in the mail room.
Detectives failed to locate him to testify.
Mr. Carr did not return messages seeking comment.
According to federal court records, Ms. Mechelli has filed multiple petitions for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection since 1997, including most recently on July 8.
Those records show that her husband is retired and receives Social Security, while she is now receiving $1,760 per month in unemployment compensation.
One filing shows that Ms. Mechelli previously worked for the Veteran's Administration, earning $3,120 per month and became unemployed on June 28.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 and on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. First Published August 2, 2013 3:30 PM