Crime

Search warrant sheds new details on Madera coroner case

Computers and documents were among the items taken from Smith Manor Grace Chapel when a search warrant was served on March 31.

• The co-owner of the chapel is accused of overcharging the Sheriff’s Office for storing human remains and keeping leftover insurance money from policies that paid for funeral expenses.



• In February, 17 of 30 coroner cases were overcharged for a total of $1,690.



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Computers, cell phones, files and coroner contracts were among the items taken from a Madera mortuary whose co-owner was arrested on suspicion of overcharging for coroner’s services, according to search warrant documents made public in Madera County Superior Court.

Sheriff’s detectives started investigating Smith Manor Grace Chapel in mid-March when a mortuary employee reported discrepancies in bills to Chief Deputy Coroner Stephanie Clark.

The February bill delivered to the Sheriff’s Office was altered, overcharging the department by $1,690 on 17 of 30 coroner cases, the signed affidavit said. The employee had an original bill to compare with the final bill.

Smith Manor has been in business in Madera for 12 years and has held the county contract for coroner services since 2004. The company was responsible for the transportation, storage, autopsy facilities and dispositions of deceased persons in the county.

Merced County and Jay’s Chapel in Madera are now helping the county cover its coroner responsibilities, Sheriff Jay Varney said on Thursday.

Under the current contract with Smith Manor, which expires in 2018, the mortuary charged a basic holding fee of $295 to store human remains for 48 hours. Each additional 24 hours was billed at a rate of $65 per day.

In February alone, the Sheriff’s Office was billed for two to six days of extra storage costs for 17 cases.

Additional interviews and investigations with the deputy coroner and other employees also revealed that the mortuary, owned by Sharlane Smith and her ex-husband, George Smith, may have charged after-hour fees — about $100 more — on autopsies conducted during normal business hours.

Smith was also accused of committing insurance fraud by keeping leftover money from insurance policies that covered funeral expenses, the warrant said.

Smith was arrested about noon on Thursday on 25 counts related to fraud and theft. Her bail was set at $125,000, and she bailed out of jail Thursday afternoon.

Varney estimated that the county lost $110,000 over the last four years as a result of Smith’s alleged actions.

A Bee email to Sharlane Smith seeking her comment went unreturned Friday.

The mortuary’s website did not show any pending arrangements.

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