Funeral director, ex-girlfriend of New Kensington murder victim charged in funeral fund scheme
Murder victim John Latoy Evans was to go to his grave in a new, $1,000 outfit: suit, shirt, tie and shoes.
But when the New Kensington man's body arrived at a New York funeral home for viewing, he was dressed in a sweater vest and khaki pants.
The clothing and other funeral expenses — courtesy of a state fund that assists the families of crime victims — raised eyebrows and questions for Evans' family and led to a 19-month investigation by the state attorney general's office.
Now a Hazelwood funeral director and Evans' former girlfriend have been charged with bilking more than $2,000 from the state Victims Compensation Assistance Program.
John N. Bauer, 59, the funeral director at Elmer Herman Funeral Home, and Tiffany D. Merideth, 39, of Vandergrift are charged with conspiring to inflate Evans' funeral expenses for personal profit. Evans, 37, was gunned down in 2011 at a New Kensington strip mall.
Neither Bauer nor Merideth returned telephone messages seeking comment.
Recipients rarely attempt to defraud the fund, said Jeff Blystone, manager of the program.
“These types of cases are a very, very rare occurrence,” he said. “We usually do an initial investigation and then turn it over to the AG's office for further investigation, if one is needed.”
The fund was esta-blished by the Legislature in 1976 to help victims and their families through the emotional and physical aftermath of a crime by easing their financial burden.
“It should be pointed out that this is not taxpayer money. Every time someone is convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania, there is a $35 penalty assessed, and that is where this program is funded,” Blystone said.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck's office employs crime victim advocates who help people apply for the assistance. This is the first fraud case involving the program he can recall in 19-plus years as chief prosecutor.
In 2013, 8,881 claims were filed in the state, and the fund paid out $13.6 million to 6,035 of them.
The investigation began in July 2012, about nine months after Evans was shot to death on Oct. 20, 2011, at the Central City Plaza. Raymond “Rico” Rivera, 38, of Arnold was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jack Brickner, attorney general special agent, detailed the chain of events in the affidavit of probable cause.
Agents were alerted to the possible fraud by an aunt, Tracy Evans of New York, because family members were denied reimbursement for funeral expenses. Tracy Evans said “some shady business was taking place at the funeral home.”
Court documents allege Bauer gave agents fake invoices showing he reimbursed Evans' relatives and Merideth for funeral expenses.
Evans' relatives told state agents they were curious when Merideth steered the family to a funeral home near Pittsburgh even though Evans lived in New Kensington, but the family agreed to go along with “his ex-girlfriend.” They later learned that Merideth had submitted numerous expense claims herself to the state program.
Merideth claimed payments to Bauer's funeral home of $4,790 for embalming, flowers, a viewing in Pittsburgh, “a suit, shoes, shirt and tie,” and transportation to the New York funeral home, Brickner wrote.
State records show Bauer cashed a check from the agency for $4,790 in April 2012, under the state's $6,500 reimbursement limit for funeral expenses.
Bauer later gave investigators a check stub that indicated he had paid Merideth $2,350 of that reimbursement from his personal bank account, court records show.
Evans' relatives told investigators that Bauer's fees included funeral services that were not held, according to Brickner.
“Taminika Evans (said) that Merideth did not pay for anything other than the clothing she had John Evans dressed in,” Brickner wrote.
Relatives gave state agents a photograph of Evans in his casket when he arrived in New York showing he was dressed in casual clothing.
Brickner alleges Bauer submitted a bill of $1,020 for a suit he claims he bought Evans. But Merideth told investigators that she spent “about $100 or $150 at best” for the clothing.
Merideth denied conspiring with Bauer to submit false claims to get money from the state fund, but she did admit to claiming false amounts to receive more money than she had spent, Brickner wrote.
Bauer and Merideth are charged with theft of services, unsworn falsification to authorities, theft by deception, obstructing administration of law, conspiracy and making false claims under the compensation assistance program. Bauer also is charged with deceptive business practices.
Both were arraigned and released on bond.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or email@example.com.