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04/29/2013

News / Former California mortician defrauded life insurance companies with fake death certificate, phony funerals, bogus invoices

A former mortician from Long Beach, California was sentenced to 18 months in prison for bilking life insurance companies in an elaborate scheme that included forging a death certificate, invoices for funeral expenses and even filling a casket with a mannequin and cow bones to simulate the weight of a human body.

Jean Crump, the mastermind of the scheme, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being convicted on seven counts of fraud and mail fraud. US District Judge William D. Keller also ordered her to pay $315,000 restitution and serve an additional year on supervised release.

“I have never seen a fraud quite like this one before,” Special Assistant US Attorney Grant Gelbert stated, as quoted by the LA Times.

Crump and her alleged accomplices had been trying to defraud three insurance companies of as much as $1.2 million. They had managed to scoop out $315,000 before investigators unraveled their scheme.

The scheme included the fabrication of the death, funeral and cremation of a fictional person named Jim Davis. According to court documents, Crump and her alleged cohorts interred a casket purported to contain the body of Jim Davis and filed a claim to collect his life insurance benefits.

When two insurance companies starting getting suspicious about whether Davis was actually buried, Crump and her alleged accomplices exhumed the casket, loaded it with a mannequin and cow bones, and sent it to a crematorium. They then reported that Davis’ body had been cremated and that his ashes had been scattered at sea. They also managed to produce a fake death certificate demonstrating that Davis had died from a heart attack.

The scheme even involved a woman who claimed to be Davis’ niece and caretaker to make it easier for Crump and her cohorts to collect on his life insurance policy. That woman was given immunity by prosecutors and testified about the scheme in court.

Another ploy involved faking the cremation of Laura Urich, who had actually died several years earlier in Arkansas. Crump and her suspected accomplices are said to have forged invoices for Urich’s funeral expenses, including bills for a limousine, body refrigeration and a casket. The suspected mountebanks managed to collect $5,000 in funeral expenses and $50,000 in life insurance benefits through two purported beneficiaries, according to court documents.

The scheme ran until 2007, when a doctor Crump and her suspected cohorts had recruited instead agreed to cooperate with the FBI. Investigators were then able to tape a meeting between that doctor and Faye Shilling, a phlebotomist with considerable expertise in life insurance claims.

Both Shilling and Crump were arrested in 2009. Last year, Shilling was convicted to two years in prison after pleaded guilty to wire fraud.

Prosecutors said two other women, mortician Lydia Eileen Pearce and Barbara Lynn, also pleaded guilty in connection to the case. Lynn received probation. Pearce was the owner of Steward-Pearce Mortuary in Long Beach and, according to investigators, assisted Crump in organizing fake funerals and producing bogus funeral-related bills. Lynn is said to have provided official seals on documents.


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