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Mortician's lies exposed as she gets 18 months in burial scams

April 24, 2013|By Richard Winton

Jean Crump made up fabulous fictional deaths. She wasn’t a best-selling author or a fabled storyteller, but a mastermind of an elaborate life insurance scam, federal prosecutors say.

For the fictional "Jim Davis," Crump created a bogus death certificate, purchased a grave plot and loaded the casket with items to simulate the weight of a corpse.

On Tuesday, her tales got her 18 months in federal prison.

Even when confronted during her trial with a secret FBI video of a meeting in July 2006 with a doctor, who unbeknownst to her was a federal informant, she continued to lie about her actions, federal prosecutors said.

At one point during the trial, she denied seeing a cohort sign a fake signature to a document after an undercover FBI videotape of the event was played in court. She only admitted it once the tape was played again, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors said the phony funeral was among the inventive tricks that Crump —a  onetime Long Beach mortician — used to loot insurance companies out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As a skilled creator of fictional death, she tried to pull off some of the most elaborate life insurance scams in Los Angeles' recent history, including the cremation of a woman who had actually died years earlier in Arkansas.

When two insurance companies became suspicious about whether Mr. Davis really was resting in peace, Crump exhumed the weighted casket. In an effort to throw off workers at the crematorium where it was headed, she inserted a mannequin and cow bones, according to court papers.

Then Crump and several associates reported the cremation to the county, saying the remains had been scattered at sea. They even asked a physician to create a death certificate — for a fatal heart attack.

"I have never seen a fraud quite like this one before," Special Assistant U.S. Atty. Grant Gelberg said before Crump was sentenced to federal prison by U.S. District Judge William D. Keller. In all, Crump was convicted on seven counts of mail fraud and fraud.

Crump and her alleged accomplices had sought as much as $1.2 million from three insurance companies and had netted about $315,000 before authorities unraveled the scheme.

The money sought from the insurance companies was for funeral expenses and life insurance policies that Crump and others had taken out on Davis and the Arkansas woman.

Keller on Tuesday ordered Crump to pay $315,000 restitution and serve an additional year on supervised release after completing her prison sentence. The judge and prosecutors said Crump showed little remorse.

In April 2009, federal prosecutors charged Crump and Faye Shilling, 64, with bilking the insurance companies with fake deaths. Shilling, a phlebotomist, was sentenced last year to two years in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud.

Prosecutors say Crump and her accomplices also faked the cremation of a Laura Urich, who had died years before in Arkansas, and collected $5,000 in funeral expenses and $50,000 in insurance death benefits through two purported beneficiaries, according to court records.

Her fake bills include a limousine, body refrigeration and a casket.

The scheme ran until 2007, when a doctor they recruited to become part of the scheme agreed instead to help the FBI. The physician had already been arrested in a separate prescription drug case. The FBI recorded the 2006 meeting in an Inglewood restaurant between him and Shilling.

Two other women, Lydia Eileen Pearce, 37, who owned Steward-Pearce Mortuary in Long Beach, and notary Barbara Lynn, 54, of Los Angeles have pleaded guilty in connection with the alleged scam, according to prosecutors. Lynn received probation.

FBI officials say Pearce and Crump brought the mortuary skills, while Lynn provided the official seal on documents and Shilling knew the ins and outs of insurance claims.

During Crump's trial, a woman given immunity by prosecutors said she pretended to be Davis' niece and caretaker so they could collect on a life insurance policy for him.

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Twitter: @lacrimes| Google+

richard.winton@latimes.com

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