Pre-Paid Funerals Consumer Tips
Before signing any pre-need contract, or paying for anything in advance:
• Know exactly what you are paying for and who will provide the services and merchandise you are purchasing.
• Know what happens to the money you’ve prepaid. Is the money being properly escrowed?
• Know who you are dealing with, who owns the firm and how long have they been in business?
• Know what happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid.
• Know if you are protected if the firm you deal with goes out of business.
• Know if you can cancel your contract and get a full refund if you change your mind.
• Know if the arrangements are Portable, Transferrable and Refundable without penalty.
• And ask yourself, “Are you feeling ‘pressured’ or hurried to buy something? If so, by whom?”
• Check if the seller is registered to sell prepaid funerals in Michigan at www2.dleg.state.mi.us/colaLicVerify/ or (517) 241-9288
• And, check to see if the funeral home is a member of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, whose members ascribe to a code of ethics: www.mfda.org or 1-888-955-6332
Source: Michigan Funeral Directors Association
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Ionia County Undersheriff Dale Miller today announced the Attorney General’s Criminal Division has charged a Portland man for allegedly embezzling nearly $500,000 from customers and insurance companies doing business with Schrauben-Lehman Funeral Home in Ionia from 2008 through 2011.
The charges result from an investigation conducted by the Ionia County Sheriff’s Department, after a complaint was filed by the funeral home’s owner.
“Conscientious citizens who purchase funeral services should not have to worry about whether the money will be there when loved ones need it most,” said Schuette. “We will continue to work with local law enforcement to hold accountable anyone who abuses their position of trust for personal enrichment.”
“I’m very pleased with our officers’ work on this long, complex investigation,” said Miller. “Our department is committed to inter-agency cooperation and using all available resources to protect the citizens of Ionia County.”
It is alleged that from 2008 through 2010, Marti James Schrauben, 38, of Portland, embezzled nearly $500,000 while an employee at Schrauben-Lehman Funeral Home in Ionia. According to the charges, Schrauben created false death certificates and sent them to insurance companies in order to receive payment from funeral policies. It’s also alleged that Schrauben accepted money for pre-paid funerals from customers of the funeral home and failed to place the money into escrow accounts, as required by state law. Instead, Schrauben allegedly embezzled the money for his own personal use.
Schuette noted that although Schrauben’s name is associated with the funeral home, he had previously sold all his interest in the company and was working as an employee at the time the alleged crimes took place.
“It is important for consumers to know that the law protects them and that law enforcement officials will take action against those that violate that trust,” said Phil Douma, executive director of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association. “Funeral directors across the state take this responsibility very seriously and we appreciate Attorney General Schuette and local law enforcement standing strong with us in that effort.”
The following 27 charges against Schrauben have been filed by Schuette with the 64th District Court in Ionia:
• One count of criminal enterprises – racketeering proceeds, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine;
• One count of conducting criminal enterprises, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine;
• One count of maintaining criminal enterprises, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine;
• Two counts of embezzlement, $100,000 or more, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine up to $50,000 or three times the amount embezzled, whichever is greater;
• One count of embezzlement, $50,000 – $100,000, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine up to $25,000 or three times the amount embezzled, whichever is greater.
• Five counts of embezzlement, $1,000 – $20,000, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine;
• Eight counts of uttering and publishing, a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison;
• Four counts of forgery, a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison;
• Four counts of insurance fraud, a felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison and a $50,000 fine;
Schrauben was arrested by Ionia County Sheriff Deputies this morning and is expected to be arraigned later today in Ionia County’s 64th District Court.
Schuette encourages consumers considering the purchase of pre-paid funeral services to take time to evaluate both the seller and the products. Consumers can find helpful advice and a list of questions to consider in Attorney General’s Consumer Alert for Pre-Paid Funeral Contracts, available on the Schuette’s website at 1.usa.gov/snhQzB.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.