The California Attorney General’s Office Department of Justice Division has agreed to handle an investigation into the Humboldt County Coroner/Public Administrator’s Office, District Attorney Maggie Fleming said this afternoon.

The state agency will also be responsible for determining whether criminal charges will be filed in the case, which involves sheriff’s deputies being allowed to purchase items from estates that were managed by the Public Administrator’s Office.

Fleming reached out last month to both the Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, asking if those agencies would handle the investigation so her office could avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest in the inquiry, given that several of the key players supported her election campaign.

The FBI declined to handle the investigation, Fleming told the Outpost last month, but now the state agency will take it over and will handle any subsequent prosecutions, Fleming said.

Documents obtained by the Outpost show that the Public Administrator’s Office regularly sold its own employees property from the estates of the recently deceased, including automobiles, electronics and more. These transactions violate California Government Code Section 27443, which carries a punishment of a $1,000 fine, up to a year in the county jail or both for any violation. 

The code also notes, “Upon conviction of this section a person forfeits his office.”

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, which has included the County Coroner/Public Administrator’s Office since early 2015, launched its own investigation into these activities in late June in response to inquiries from the Outpost. Because of the consolidation of these offices, Sheriff William Honsal holds the title and responsibilities of coroner and public administrator, along with his sheriff duties — as did former Sheriff Mike Downey before him.

Records show that Eureka Mayor and former coroner Frank Jager was also involved in many of the transactions now under review, including his own purchase of a 2001 Chevrolet S10 pickup that belonged to the estate of a man named Dewey Vrzina. Honsal has said that at least six current employees purchased property from the Public Administrator’s Office.