Funeral home manager charged with embezzlement - WNEM TV 5

Woman charged in prepaid funeral services fraud

Updated:
Stapish-Cederberg Stapish-Cederberg
BAY COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

A funeral home manager was accused of embezzling more than $436,000 in pre-paid funeral funds and insurance premiums.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the charges Tuesday against Erica Kaznowski of the Stapish-Cederberg Funeral Homes in Bay City and Essexville.

Erica is the daughter of former funeral home owner Lynn M. Cederberg.

Kaznowski was accused of stealing at least $436,000 from 89 customers between January 2005 through July 2011.

Schuette's office said the investigation began in July 2011, after the funeral homes continued operating despite allowing their licenses to expire.

"Conscientious citizens who purchase funeral services should not have to worry about whether the money will be there when their loved ones need it most," Schuette said.  "We will hold accountable anyone who abuses their position of trust for personal enrichment."

Instead of properly escrowing funds and sending premiums to the insurance companies, Kaznowski allegedly embezzled the funds paid by the 89 victims.  

The alleged embezzlement of funds was uncovered by an audit performed by the Bureau of Commercial Services, the state agency charged with regulating funeral homes. 

Kaznowski was charged with one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony, and seven counts of embezzlement by trustee, a five-year felony.

It was expected that she would be arraigned Wednesday morning in District Court in Bay City.

An obituary for Kaznowski's mother says she died Nov. 29.

Before signing any pre-need contract, or paying for anything in advance:

  • Know exactly what you are paying for and who will provide the services and merchandise you are purchasing.
  • Know what happens to the money you've prepaid.  Is the money being properly escrowed?
  • Know who you are dealing with, who owns the firm and how long have they been in business?
  • Know what happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid.
  • Know if you are protected if the firm you deal with goes out of business.
  • Know if you can cancel your contract and get a full refund if you change your mind.
  • Know if the arrangements are Portable, Transferrable and Refundable without penalty.
  • And ask yourself, "Are you feeling 'pressured' or hurried to buy something? If so, by whom?"
  • Check if the seller is registered to sell prepaid funerals in Michigan: https://www2.dleg.state.mi.us/colaLicVerify/ or (517) 241-9288.
  • And, check to see if the funeral home is a member of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association, whose members ascribe to a code of ethics: http://www.mfda.org/ or (888) 955-6332.

(Consumer Tips on Pre-Need Funeral Investments, Courtesy of the Michigan Funeral Directors Association)

Schuette encouraged consumers considering the purchase of pre-paid funeral services to take time to evaluate both the seller and the products. 

Consumers can also find helpful advice and a list of questions to consider in Attorney General's Consumer Alert for Pre-Paid Funeral Contracts, available on the Schuette's website at http://1.usa.gov/snhQzB.

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