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Michigan mortician charged in fraud

MONROE -- A mortician who took over long-established funeral homes in Monroe and Erie townships has been charged with nine felony counts for failing to deposit the money of customers who paid in advance for services.

Brad D. Prochnow, 38, of Deerfield, Mich., was arraigned last week in First District Court in connection with the conversion of funeral funds -- more than $65,000 handed over by 10 people who thought their arrangements were bought and paid for, Trooper Marc Moore of the Michigan State Police's Monroe post said.

"A lot of people do it," Trooper Moore said. "They don't want to be a burden on their kids when they die."

Funeral directors by law are supposed to place that money in a trust or escrow account, Trooper Moore said. Authorities could not find that Mr. Prochnow did so, whether it was for the person who paid $995 or the married couple who paid $7,000 each for individual contracts.

The maximum penalty for each count is five years in prison, Trooper Moore said.

Mr. Prochnow also was charged with five related felonies.

He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His attorney, Phil Goldsmith, declined to comment. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 19.

The missing prepaid account funds were discovered this summer by Darrell Bennett, 78, the longtime owner of the Bennett Funeral Home. Mr. Prochnow bought the business in 2006 and Mr. Bennett and his wife, Jean, retired to Ocala, Fla.

As Mr. Prochnow fell further behind in his payments, Mr. Bennett reclaimed the Erie location and lowered the payments, "and he didn't make those either," Mr. Bennett said.

Mr. Bennett and his wife returned to Monroe and took over the entire business in July. He could not find that money for preneed funeral arrangements had been deposited.

"My heart dropped, and I felt so bad. I knew the consequences," Mr. Bennett said.

He recalled warning Mr. Prochnow -- even before the sale took place -- that money for preneed arrangements had to be put away.

"Every time I talked to him, I told him, 'Make sure you fund it all,'" Mr. Bennett said. "If you're a dollar short, put in an extra $10. If I told him once, I told him a thousand times."

Already Mr. Bennett has absorbed the expense of one unfunded funeral. "Therefore, I can sleep. Right's right, and wrong's wrong," he said.

He's not sure what he'll do if other cases arise. "I would like to be financially able to just give it to them, but I'm not. He's put me in such shape. I have expenses," Mr. Bennett said.

Mr. Bennett called the state police. Mr. Prochnow gave troopers consent to look at bank and escrow records. The money was not there, Trooper Moore said.

"We went to the prosecutor," Trooper Moore said. "This is all elderly people who are victimized by all this."

Trooper Moore is advising anyone who set up a preneed arrangement between September, 2006, and July to contact Mr. Bennett, who then will check the funeral home's records.

"I'm hoping we've got them all," Trooper Moore said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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