Backyard bones: Man accused of stealing dead father's benefits
A Santa Ana man was charged with fraudulently collecting more than $100,000 of his deceased father's Social Security benefits Tuesday after bones believed to be those of his father were found in the backyard of his former home, officials said.
Larry Thomas Dominguez, 65, was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon on a felony count of theft by embezzlement, with sentencing enhancements for aggravated white-collar crime over $100,000, the Orange County district attorney's office announced.
Prosecutors allege that Dominguez collected more than $1,100 a month between his father's death in May 2005 and January of this year. If convicted, he faces a maximum of four years in prison.
Authorities began investigating Dominguez on Sunday after a human skeleton was discovered during a renovation project at a home he used to own, Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said. Though an autopsy did not immediately identify the remains, Bertagna said Tuesday they were believed to be those of Dominguez's father, Wallace Benjamin Dominguez.
There is no death certificate for Wallace Dominguez, Bertagna said, and authorities do not know how he died. Investigators were able to pinpoint May 2005 as his date of death but did not elaborate as to how.
Wallace Dominguez, in his late 70s at the time of his death, lived at the home with his son, Bertagna said. Larry Dominguez's mother also lived at the home, Bertagna said — but investigators have a death certificate for her.
"As a homicide detective, the question begs: Did he murder him and has been collecting the benefits?" Bertagna said. "Or did he die and he just took that opportunity to bury him and continue on with his benefits?"
Larry Dominguez was originally arrested on suspicion of homicide, but prosecutors filed the embezzlement charges as authorities continue to investigate the manner of death, Bertagna said, adding "there's a lot of work to be done."
"This is a first for me," he said of the case. "I'm sure they exist, but it's the first I know."
— Kate Mather
Photo: Coroner's investigators carry evidence away in a white box where a skull and other human remains were found in a Santa Ana backyard Sunday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times