Winnipeg funeral home accused of bilking clients, faking death certificates
24 charges laid against Winnipeg funeral home owner Mike Knysh in connection with prearranged funeral plans
A Winnipeg funeral home has been accused of faking death certificates to receive payouts from insurance companies and stealing money intended to be held in trust from clients.
Mike Knysh, owner of Knysh Funeral Chapel on Fife Street, is charged with 24 counts of fraud and forgery from 2000 to 2015, said Winnipeg police Monday. Knysh also operated a location in Beausejour, which burned down a few years ago.
"Investigators identified nine victims who had purchased prearranged funeral plans from Knysh … and whose funds were not held in trust as should have been the case," said Sgt. Shaun Veldman of the Winnipeg police financial crimes unit.
"The funds are believed to have been stolen and the total amount taken from the victims was $35,000."
In addition, over a period of 10 years, police said several insurance companies were given fake funeral director's statement-of-death certificates for people who had not died. A total of $83,000 was claimed from 13 different insurance policies, said Veldman.
Knysh was arrested and charged with four counts of fraud over $5,000, seven counts of fraud under $5,000 and 13 counts of forgery. He was released from custody with conditions, said police.
Hearing the news that Knysh has been arrested was "sort of surreal," said Maggie Berthelette.
"I feel surprised, because today just happens to be the anniversary of my dad's passing," she said Monday.
Money nowhere to be found
Berthelette's mother, Rosemarie Markewich, prearranged her own funeral after Berthelette's father died, paying Knysh Funeral Chapel $3,500 in 2009.
However, a letter had been filed four months earlier with the Manitoba Companies Office saying Knysh Funeral Chapel was no longer operating.
In 2016, Markewich decided to add some services to her prearranged funeral and paid an additional $500.
At that point, Markewich started hearing that the funeral home had closed, said Berthelette, so they called the funeral home and they were assured everything was still in order.
When they later discovered that the funeral home had officially closed down, they tried to recover her mother's money, but it was nowhere to be found, said Berthelette.
"We couldn't get any answers as to where the money was," she said. "It didn't matter who we spoke to.
"How many people have passed away and this has happened to them and there is no record?" asked Berthelette. "I just can't imagine how many more there might be, which is disgusting."
When contacted by CBC in May of 2017, Knysh said he would look into the missing money.
Asked why records showed Knysh Funeral Chapel was dissolved months before Markewich signed her agreement in 2009, Knysh said, "No, the company was still registered, so I'm not sure what the oversight was there.
"That's odd, but you know, we'd have to get our lawyer to look into it because I know we were still operating at that time."
He did not respond to further requests for comment by CBC at the time.
Police were told about possible fraudulent activity by someone in the funeral industry about a year ago, said Veldman.
"[These kinds of investigations need] a lot of interviews and dealing with different agencies, different entities, number of different people," he said. "Then getting authorizations from the courts to get records, and that all just takes time."
A separate investigation is taking place into the Wheeler Funeral Home, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, said Veldman. The two investigations are not linked.
The fact two investigations involving the funeral industry are taking place doesn't mean the entire industry is bad, said Veldman.
However, if people are concerned, they can contact the Funeral Board of Manitoba, he said.
"If they have questions on how to find out, specifically, 'Should I be concerned, if I have questions,' go to them. The funeral board would be able to direct them."
With files from Caroline Barghout