The co-owner of a Lethbridge, Alta., funeral home pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of fraud for overcharging about 50 clients for caskets and containers for cremation services.
Ralph Zentner and his wife Faith, who own the Cornerstone Funeral Home, originally both faced nine charges in total, including committing an indignity to a body for allegedly cutting the finger off a body to remove a ring. The other charges were all dropped after Zentner pleaded guilty to fraud. All charges against his wife were dropped.
Between July 2000 and December 2010, the funeral home charged some clients for caskets and containers then switched them for less expensive trays before cremation, sometimes without the family of the deceased knowing.
Gordon Krinke, the provincial court judge hearing the case in Lethbridge, said he needs more time to consider the sentence and adjourned court until February to set a date for sentencing.
Crown prosecutor James Pickard said in sentencing arguments that Zentner should be jailed for nine to 12 months for defrauding his funeral home clients, adding the crimes were an "egregious breach of trust" and Zentner took advantage of "people who were at their most vulnerable, people who were grieving, and looking to someone for help."
The prosecutor also said some of the victims were people who received social services, including assured income for the severely handicapped (AISH) — a support for physically and mentally disabled Albertans. Those in the care of the province get funding for funerals from the Alberta government.
From January 2000 to December 2005, some clients of social services or AISH were not cremated in the No. 2 Imperial Casket that the provincial government was billed for, but instead the funeral home used less expensive trays.
Defence lawyer Balfour Der is asking for a discharge so Zentner can run his funeral home business without a criminal record.
The Zentners had previously called the allegations "ludicrous." Ralph Zentner said in a statement that he chose to take responsibility for the fraud charge, and change the funeral home's practices, but said the other allegations were false.
In an earlier version of this story, it was reported 100 clients were sold more expensive caskets for cremations services, in fact it was 50 clients. Also, there was nine charges against both of the accused, but all were dropped except one count of fraud against Ralph Zentner. In an earlier version of this story, it said the charges were stayed.Oct 04, 2013 12:45 AM MT