CROWN POINT — The former treasurer for Kraft Funeral Home in Hobart was charged Monday in Lake Criminal Court with forgery, fraud and theft on allegations she stole money from customers of the defunct business.
Jacqueline A. Kraft, 67, allegedly defrauded at least 15 customers between 2013 and 2015 who purchased funeral services from Kraft Funeral and Cremation Services, according to court documents filed Tuesday.
The defendant allegedly forged signatures to hide the alleged thefts, many of which were reported after the funeral home's license was revoked in February 2015.
The Indiana Attorney General's Office recommended the revocation after an investigation revealed the funeral home filed five insurance death claims on behalf of living clients.
The State Board of Funeral and Cemetery Service also revoked the license of funeral home president Russell A. Kraft Jr.
Russell Kraft Jr., identified in court records as Jacqueline Kraft's son, is not named as a defendant in the complaint filed Tuesday. Jacqueline Kraft is the widow of former Hobart Police Chief Russell A. Kraft.
Hobart police Detective Sgt. Stephen Houck said Tuesday he believed the fraud was only perpetrated by Jacqueline A. Kraft. He said he suspected she engaged in fraud since the funeral home's creation, but the five-year statute of limitations limited what crimes could be charged.
The allegations are outlined in an 18-page probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday.
Police: 'Pre-need' plan funds never deposited
Former customers of the funeral home began contacting police after The Times and other news organizations reported the board's decision to revoke the funeral home's license, the affidavit states.
The customers were allegedly robbed of money paid for future funeral or cremation services, so-called “pre-need” funeral or burial plans.
The funeral home is required to place such payments into a trust or escrow on behalf of the customer so it can be used to pay for funeral services at the time of the beneficiary's death, but police determined customer funds were instead placed into the funeral home's bank account.
One woman told police she paid $10,385 for such a plan on behalf of her mother, who suffered from dementia.
She said she signed a contract for funeral services at a meeting June 20, 2014, attended by Jacqueline A. Kraft and Russell A. Kraft Jr., the affidavit states.
An executive director for the Indiana Funeral Directors Association, which operates the Master Choice Funeral Trust Fund, where the money was allegedly deposited, said no fund was created in the mother's name.
Another woman told police she purchased funeral services for her sister, who suffered from multiple sclerosis.
She said on Oct. 18, 2004, she paid $7,000 to the funeral home for a life insurance policy, which was supposed to be used for her sister's funeral. A representative for the insurance company told police the life insurance policy did not exist.
Affidavit: Forged signatures, funds used to keep business afloat
Hobart police executed a search warrant at the funeral home Aug. 27, 2015. The officers noted a casket in the funeral home's viewing room was half-filled with unopened mail, mostly dated from 2014.
Detectives spoke with Jacqueline Kraft while searching the funeral home. She was asked about a woman who was listed as a notary on many of the documents. Jacqueline Kraft said the notary lived in Wheeler.
The notary was contacted by police Sept. 15. She told police the signatures were forged.
Russell A. Kraft Jr. was interviewed by police June 29. He told police his mother forged his signature on customer contracts and receipts, though he admitted he allowed his mother, who was not a licensed funeral director, to sign documents on his behalf.
He said he was responsible for running the funeral home, and his mother handled the company's finances.
He said his relationship with his mother outside of the business was “horrible,” the affidavit states. He said he had spoken with his mother only two or three times in the past year.
He said he could not write a check for the company, and did not have a company debit card.
Jacqueline Kraft was interviewed by police July 31 and Aug. 2. She said she and her son wrote company checks and had equal access to the company's bank accounts.
She allegedly admitted after confronted with evidence she did not deposit customer money into trust accounts, instead using the money to keep the company “afloat.”
She insisted her son was aware of the alleged frauds, the affidavit states, but she could not remember ever discussing it with him.
Jacqueline Kraft was formerly a manager for Hobart Federal Bank, acquired by Main Source Bank in 2006, the affidavit states. She was fired from the company in October 2007 after an unsatisfactory performance review.
Main Source Bank in Hobart did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Jacqueline Kraft is charged with two counts of corrupt business influence, forgery, insurance fraud and 16 counts of theft.
Attempts to reach Kraft for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Kraft's surety bond is $30,000, according to court records.