GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A former employee of an Ionia funeral home was charged with racketeering, embezzlement and fraud for allegedly creating false death certificates, submitting them to insurance companies, and pocketing the money they paid.
Marti James Schrauben, 38, of Portland, was arrested Thursday morning and was arraigned in the afternoon, the Michigan Attorney General's office said in a release.
Although Schrauben at one time was an owner of the Schrauben-Lehman Funeral Home in Ionia , at the time of these alleged crimes -- 2008-11 -- he had sold his interest in the business and was only an employee.
The investigation, prompted by a complaint from the current owner of the funeral home, indicates "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," Attorney General Bill Schuette's office said.
He allegedly took nearly $500,000.
Schrauben faces 27 separate felony charges:
One count of Criminal Enterprises - Racketeering Proceeds
One count of Conducting Criminal Enterprises
One count of Maintaining Criminal Enterprises
Two counts of Embezzlement, $100,000 Or More
One count of Embezzlement, $50,000 - $100,000
Five counts of Embezzlement, $1,000 - $20,000
Eight counts of Uttering and Publishing
Four counts of Forgery
Four counts of Insurance Fraud
If convicted, he faces up to decades in prison.
Michael Lehman is the current owner of the funeral home and was once a partner with Schrauben.
"My relationship with Marti will stem back to... Let's go all the way back to the early '70s." said Lehman. "I had the idea of let's go back to Portland and start a funeral home. We'll be the owners: 50-50 owners. The American Dream, you know."
Now, he's trying to make things right with customers who pre-paid money for funerals.
"To me in relation to my business is a lot of money, and a lot of hard earned money for families," Lehman said. "A lot of people that have entrusted their money with me have wondered if the money is still here. ... I'm giving them a letter of guarantee until I receive this money back."
He said the ordeal has been trying.
"My name is out on the front sign," said Lehman. "To have someone come in a short amount of time and nearly destroy everything that you've worked for... that's hard."
"It's just been kind of a long couple years," he added.
He said he was upset when he first noticed discrepancies in the funeral home's bookkeeping.
"First thought was -- felt like I got kicked in the stomach really," said Lehman. "He was part of our dreams. At one time, we dreamed together."
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