Madera funeral home co-owner arrested on fraud charges

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MADERA, Calif. -- Madera County Sheriff's detectives arrested Sharlane Smith, co-owner of Smith Manor Grace Chapel in Madera, on numerous counts of fraud on Thursday.

Smith Manor has held Madera County's coroner services contract since 2007 and has been responsible for transportation, storage, autopsy facilities, and dispositions of deceased persons in Madera County. The Madera County Sheriff's Office said investigators have uncovered evidence that Smith was intentionally adding charges to the monthly billing to the County for services that were not actually provided.

Investigators searched the business in March and interviewed several employees, but no one was taken into custody at that time -- but numerous business records were seized.

"This case is particularly troubling due to the blatant theft and violation of trust by the vendor, as well as how long they were able to continue this deception despite monthly review of the billings by staff members. We will be reviewing this process and implementing safeguards to prevent future abuse of this kind," said Sheriff Varney.

The Sheriff's Office said Smith Manor will no longer be handling Coroner's services for Madera County. They said the duties will be split between other local entities until another provider is found.