After saying the charges against him and his wife, Faith, were "ludicrous," Ralph Zentner pleaded guilty to one count of fraud under $5,000. Eight remaining charges were withdrawn by the prosecutor.
Yesterday, the Zentners appeared in a Lethbridge, Alberta courtoom to answer to the charges that arose of out the practices at the Cornerstone Funeral Home. Ralph pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and the remaining charges were withdrawn by the Crown. One of the charges dropped was a count of offering an indignity to a human body. It was alleged a finger was cut off a corpse and a ring taken.
Although all charges against Faith Zentner were dropped, she had previously been convicted in 2006 of embalming without a licence.
Ralph Zentner, a co-owner of the funeral home, admitted that between July 2000 and December 2010, some clients were charged for expensive caskets. Cheaper ones were then substituted prior to cremation.
While it was initially widely reported that there were 100 occurrences of this fraud, CBC is now saying it only happened 50 times. Zentner also admitted that on five occasions, Cornerstone charged $50 to scatter ashes when in fact the scatterings were never carried out.
According to the Lethbridge Herald, it was the government of Alberta, specifically Alberta Social Services, that was billed for the fraudulent practices.
Zentner will be sentenced at a later date and the prosecution is seeking a jail sentence of between nine and 12 months. Crown Attorney James Pickard told the court, "Those were calculated decisions that were made." He added what happened was an "egregious breach of trust."
Pickard also told the court the deceased were Albertans who were receiving social assistance. Many of them had severe physical or mental disabilities.
Zentner's lawyer, Balfour Der, is asking the court for a discharge. If a discharge is granted, his client will end up without a criminal record.
Quoted in the Vancouver Sun, Der said, I'm fearful that a criminal record would prevent him from continuing his life's work here. He means an awful lot to that community and it would be a shame if he were prevented from working because of a conviction.
By "life's work", Der is presumably referring to that of a funeral director and not defrauding the province of Alberta, which Zentner admitted doing over a 10 year period.
As Global News points out, scams and scandals involving funeral homes are not unheard of in Canada.
Zentner is due back in court on Feb. 7 when a date for a sentencing hearing will be set.