Funeral Divas Muneerah Warner arrested and the Conference fails! Monica Vernette Gray shares insight! Questions remain!!!

November 13, 2012

Always on the forefront of the funeral industry – Connecting Directors – a leading provider of funeral news was on top of this breaking story that may, as the facts come out, turn into a fraud inquiry…?  Ryan, with Connecting Directors, interviewed via email former Funeral Divas, Inc board member – Monica Vernette Gray about the fiasco regarding the Chicago Conference.  The conversation is reproduced with permission from Connecting Directors.

Hello Ryan. Thanks for reaching out to me. I had a feeling you would.  : )

Man I don’t know where to start.  OK … Tuesday (11/6/2012) the evening before the conference, Muneerah Warner called me from the hotel and stated there was a problem with her credit card…she had no idea what was wrong with her credit card…the hotel needed another credit card…made some remark about needing shelter…

The New York Chapter president of Funeral Divas paid for Ms. Warner’s hotel room for that evening (even though Ms. Warner told her that everything would be paid for) and my credit card was supposed to be used to HOLD (not charge or pay) until Ms. Warner straightened out the issue with her credit card. Without me being present, or my credit card being present, the hotel charged my credit card $1,750.00 for the conference rooms.

STORY #1:  When I arrived at the hotel the following morning (Wednesday, 11/7/2012), Ms. Warner told me that while she was on the airplane en route to the conference, someone went to her bank in Alexandria, VA and withdrew $7,000.00 out of her account. She said the investigation into this was going to take 6 to 8 weeks … and the funds would not be available to her before then. I asked her to call someone to cover the cost of the hotel conference rooms and she said she had nobody to call. She said she only had $71 in her account.

In the meantime, I observed one of the presenters at the computer looking up addresses for local currency exchanges. She wanted to cash the $985.00 check that was presented to her by Ms. Warner. She also contacted the bank that the check was written on…and was told that the account the check was written on was no good. She told Ms. Warner she wanted cash, and Ms. Warner said she would ask ME for half of the money. !!!!!  I drove this presenter to a local currency exchange and after approximately 20 minutes of phone time, the

currency exchange refused to cash the check.

STORY #2:  As I remember this version of events relayed to me by the presenter, Ms. Warner told this presenter that a check had been deposited but had not cleared … and would not clear until Monday (11/12/2012).

Another presenter was also presented with a check by Ms. Warner…and Ms. Warner let her know that funds were not available to cover it.

The first presenter I mentioned above was livid, outraged … the whole gamut.  I told Ms. Warner my displeasure at the ways she handled things. I told her that she took advantage of me and, after the out-of=town folks returned to their respective states, I would have to deal with the embarrassment and fallout of what she came to my hometown to do.  I did not get the impression that Ms. Warner understood the magnitude and seriously of what was going on.  The first presenter and I had yet another discussion about the incredible events, and she called the Rosemont Police Department in Rosemont, IL. The officers instructed the presenters on the proper handling of this situation, and told them they would have to seek relief in civil court.

After I expressed my dilemma to the police officers, they took the matter to the hotel management. I was about to call my bank, but one of the managers demanded that I not call the bank …and they reversed the charges immediately.  They stated that Ms. Warner did not tell them to use my credit card to HOLD the conference rooms, but instructed them to go ahead and charge my credit card. There were no signed contracts with my signature on them with the hotel, and I never agreed to pay the hotel for the conference rooms. (In fact, I had ZERO contact with the hotel during the arrangement of this conference.) This left the $1,750 unpaid and since Ms. Warner did not have the means to pay it, she was arrested.  I believe the charge was “theft of services,” with the hotel being the injured party.

One of the police officers told me that I was too nice to people, too nice to Ms. Warner, and to never do that again.  Lesson learned.

The conference was disrupted and ended. The hotel provided a shuttle bus for the attendees to go to the Rosemont Police Department so they could copy driver’s licenses and collect telephone numbers of the attendees.  The detective told us that they called the bank in question, and there were NO identity theft issues associated with Ms. Warner’s account. Yeah … she lied to me about being the victim of identity theft.

Problems Problems Problems!!!!!

  1. The New York Chapter President was stranded in Chicago and not prepared to pay for any hotel rooms (as Ms. Warner told her this expense would be taken care). She spent the night with one of the presenters. GRACIOUSLY, ASD (one of the corporate sponsors for this conference) paid for a few nights at the hotel for this chapter present.
  2. I believe 17 people registered for the conference. There were national and local corporate sponsors for the conference. WHERE IS THIS MONEY???????????????????????????????????
  3. Why wasn’t the hotel paid in advance for this conference?
  4. Some of the conference registrants were able to contact their credit card companies and get the charges temporarily reversed while investigation takes place.

I do not know the specifics of Ms. Warner’s release or who paid what to get her out of jail.

I do not know what will become of Funeral Divas. I wish Funeral Divas well in future endeavors. As an organization, the premise is sound.  Intentions at one time were honorable.  I do not know what happened or went wrong. I NEVER thought I would witness and experience the events of last week.

I do not know what happened to the monies collected from conference registrations and corporate sponsorships. I believe a complete financial forensic audit of Funeral Divas is appropriate and in order.

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to share my horrific and humiliating experience.

Monica Vernette Gray

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

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Burr Oak Cemetery ex-director – Carolyn Towns – sentenced to 12 Years in Prison! What did she do and Why? Comments are welcome!

July 10, 2011

Perhaps now this chapter of the history of Burr Oak Cemetery located outside of Chicago can be put to rest – much like people would want for those buried there.  Unfortunately Burr Oak, at least in recent day, has been anything but a place of rest rather it was a place where hundreds of graves were dug up and resold.

The former director of a Chicago-area cemetery Carolyn Towns, 51, who ran the Burr Oak Cemetery when the allegations surfaced in 2009, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to all charges against her, including dismembering a human body and theft from a place of worship, according to state prosecutors in Cook County, Illinois.

WHAT DID THEY DO?

In an effort to sell more property (grave spaces) prosecutors allege the grave diggers would exhume bodies, crushing vaults and caskets before dumping human remains at the cemetery’s trash site.  They then would  “double stack” graves, in other words  they would bury existing remains deeper into the ground before placing new remains in the same grave site.

In a CNN report the following is stated:

Towns “is very remorseful, not only for the pain she caused her family, but the families of people who have loved ones at Burr Oak,” defense attorney Susana Ortiz said, according to CNN affiliate WLS. “She accepted responsibility for the allegations in this case, and she would just like to put this behind her and move on with her life.”

As part of the grueling investigation, the CNN report goes on to say:

At the time, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said the scene at the cemetery was disturbing. “I found bones out there,” he said. “I found individuals wandering aimlessly looking for their loved ones who can’t find them.”

The investigation also extended into “Babyland,” a section of the cemetery intended for children. Dart said he talked to countless women who could not find their children.

Authorities also discovered the original glass-faced casket belonging to 14-year-old Emmett Till, piled in a garage filled with lawn care equipment.

WHAT MOTIVATES SUCH BEHAVIOR?

An Associated Press article provides a clearer explanation as to the motives behind the Burr Oak debacle.  “Prosecutors say Towns stole more than $100,000 from the corporation that owned Burr Oak by keeping the payments for burials and having workers stack bodies or dump remains in unmarked mass graves.” Some published reports say the amount taken was more than 300,000.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, “Towns’ attorney Richard S. Kling said the money she stole fed a terrible gambling addiction, and blinded her sense of what she knew was right.”

As a business ethics and fraud prevention speaker, and also a person who is actively involved in the Death-Care industry, I see, all to often, that when three things come together: (1) Need; (2) Opportunity and (3) Rationalization – it creates the PERFECT STORM for fraud.  To be clear, just because those three things are present does not mean that Fraud will occur, rather it means that the conditions are right for the ethical person to make the unethical choice that can lead to illegal activities and fraud.  As I speak to groups internationally the significant question that comes up is not what happened – that is generally evident by the facts, but rather what motivated the perpetrators behavior in the first place?

It appears that Towns had a need (according to her attorney – support a gambling habit).  Towns also had opportunity as the director of the cemetery she had the power to authorize the maintenance worker to perform inappropriate and illegal conduct (they could have refused, but often in subordinate roles they will not assuming they are protected by doing what their boss tells them).  Lastly, Towns was so likely caught up in the illusion she created that she had no ability to see reality – hence she could rationalize her behavior.

None of this makes what she did right!  Not at all, but rather it, in simple form, shows what might have contributed to her mindset that what she did was right.

The judge in this case got it right!

“The victims in this case are essentially the public,” he said. “The defendant’s actions in these crimes caused ­­— while not physical harm ­— I believe irreparable emotional and psychological harm.

“There is no way to repair the harm done to those grieving families and friends.”

If you were a victim of Carolyn Town actions…feel free to comment here so others can know your feelings!

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!


President Obama and Those Fat Cats from Wall Street – 2009 Ethics a Year in Review (1 of 3)

January 1, 2010

Frankly I couldn’t believe what I heard on the news when President Obama, in an interview, called bankers into the White House to seek their help with the economy – having referred to them the day before as “Fat Cat” bankers.  Hum…the President of the United States resorting to labeling people in less than a professional manner.  Perhaps it is just his folksy style, but that type of approach seems much less than presidential.  But then I got to thinking…

Seems like in this administration there was some effort to curb the abuses that the banks have hurled at consumers when it came to credit cards.  That, for everyone but the banks, was hailed as “about time” legislation.  Ethically, the banks have played less than fair with consumers.  Personal example…my wife, who has spotless credit had a Bank of American card with a zero balance and substantial credit limit, received a letter from BofA increasing her interest rate to 22.9% from 8.9%.  She called asking why and was told it was a mistake, but one that could not be undone.  After expressing her deep dissatisfaction and then vowing (after she got off the phone not to ever use the card), she got a letter from Bank of America (just a week later) cutting her credit line by 75%.  Ethical actions by Bank of America – yea right.

According to Money Magazine senior writer – Donna Rosato – “Lawmakers gave issuers till February 2010 to fully comply with the new law. Meanwhile, issuers have rushed to raise interest rates, impose new fees and cut credit limits. The median rate on credit cards surged 13% to 23% from December 2008 to July 2009, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Meanwhile, a bill to expedite the credit card reforms, the Credit Card Rate Freeze Act, has gone nowhere. When the new law kicks in in 2010, consumers will have more protection.”

Maybe the term “Fat Cat” Bankers was justified.

Ah…but there’s more.

Fortune Magazine states:

What Ken Lewis wanted, Ken Lewis got. During his eight-year tenure as Bank of America’s CEO, he embarked on a dizzying series of acquisitions to create the nation’s biggest financial services company.

But when his last two big buys — toxic-mortgage giant Countrywide and dead-on-its-feet bank Merrill Lynch — drew too much scrutiny from regulators and shareholders, Lewis packed up his golden parachute last October and bailed.

Maybe I should be a bit kinder in my blog.  Perhaps after squandering Bank of American funds on losing propositions, they needed the rate increase on credit cards.  Of course, that assumes that folks use those credit cards.  In our case, I think not.

BUT TO TOP IT OFF…

When the government, back in the Clinton administration, asked Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to extend credit to many American who, otherwise, were not credit worthy – I have to ask the question – with rising deficits and massive government spending – why should anyone in the government call anyone names when the government is doing just what those Wall Street “Fat Cats” did – namely living above their means.  We have massive debt and seem to believe that living in debt is O.K.

Perhaps the ethical thing to do is say – NO to additional government debt and do what is being preached to the population – live within your means and act ethically and in a responsible manner.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?


Funeral Fraud – LA Women Charged in $1 Million Fake Funeral Scam – AMAZING!

April 13, 2009

I have heard of many things, but this one ranks high in creative approaches to scamming.  The R I P button likely stands for Resides In Prison cause that’s where these two will go if the charges alleged are proven.

According to the US Attorney’s office in LA – two women – allegedly participated in a scheme to cash life insurance policies for fictitious individuals and istock_000006314744xsmallstage  funerals to create the appearance that the individuals had died.

According to the indictment, Shilling, a phlebotomist, and Crump, an employee at a now-defunct Long Beach mortuary, defrauded multiple insurance companies over a three-year period by cashing life insurance policies for non-existent identities, whom they claimed had died. As part of the scheme, Shilling and Crump allegedly caused the preparation of bogus death certificates, purchased burial plots and staged phony funerals to lend credibility to the scheme. When staging the funerals, the women allegedly filled caskets with various materials to make it appear they contained actual corpses.

Shilling and Crump allegedly defrauded several lending companies that advance cash to cover funeral expenses in exchange for a portion of the decedent’s life insurance policy. Shilling, Crump and their accomplices allegedly filed false documents with the County of Los Angeles stating the remains of one man were cremated and scattered at sea, when in fact no corpse existed. The indictment further alleges that defendant Crump offered a medical doctor $50,000 to create records supporting the fake death certificate.

According to a report in Connectingdirectors.com:

The US Attorney stated said the “dead” were likely fictitious people, but said identities of real people may have been stolen.

In one funeral at a Long Beach mortuary, authorities alleged that the women loaded a casket with various items to simulate the weight of a corpse they called “Jim Davis.” They purchased a plot in a Compton graveyard, had a funeral and had the casket buried.

In addition to the life insurance claims, which included a $250,000 policy, prosecutors said the women secured payments from financing companies to pay for inflated funeral costs.  We talked with representatives from American Funeral Financial (one of our sponsors) to ask about precautions for such activity.

We (at American Funeral Financial) work hard to provide service to our customers – the many funeral homes and cemeteries across the country that rely on us for funeral funding.  This story is quite amazing and not remotely normal in the standard course of business.  We make sure that we know our customers and have a comfort level of their viability before we enter into any funding transactions.  The steps we deal with to make funeral funding decisions should prevent this type of fraud from happening.  Still this is quite amazing.

Shilling and Crump were charged with mail fraud and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to defraud insurance companies and lending companies out of more than $750,000.  Two other women, Lydia Eileen Pearce, 37, owner of a mortuary in Long Beach, and Barbara Lynn, 54, a notary from Los Angeles, previously pleaded guilty in the alleged scam, said Montero, and he believed that more arrests were likely.

If convicted, they could face 20 years in prison.

YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME!