By Lisa Wade McCormick
A federal jury has indicted a California woman for her role in a morbid insurance scheme that staged funerals, forged death certificates, and even filled an exhumed coffin with cow parts and a mannequin.
Jean Crump, 67, of South Los Angeles, is the fourth and final member of the extravagant insurance fraud ring charged in the plot that duped life insurance companies out of thousands of dollars, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said.
Jurors found Crump -- a former mortuary employee -- guilty of two counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud.
During its investigation, the FBI discovered that Crump and her three female accomplices filed fraudulent claims against $1.2 million in life insurance policies for a person who had not died as they alleged.
The FBIs investigation revealed the women went to great lengths to lend credibility to their scheme, including staging a funeral and burying an empty casket.
In one instance, investigators learned that Crump and her accomplices bought life insurance policies for a Jim Davis, and named his so-called niece and nephew as the beneficiaries.
When Davis allegedly died, Crump and her partners in the scheme created a fraudulent death certificate -- with a doctors forged signature -- to collect the life insurance money, the FBI said.
The women also staged a phony funeral for Davis and recruited people to play mourning family members in case anyone was watching, the FBI said.
The sham didnt stop there.
Documents the women filed with financial companies also claimed they purchased an ornate casket and elaborate floral arrangements for Davis funeral, the FBI said. The women even purchased a burial plot for Davis and buried him without a headstone.
Federal investigators learned the women also made up grossly inflated bills from a mortuary to cover Davis funeral and burial costs. The women then wired those bills which listed different amounts -- to two assignment companies.
Both companies paid the mortuary, which was owned and operated by one of the four players involved in the insurance scheme, Lydia Pearce.
One company paid Pearces mortuary nearly $30,000 and the other paid a little more than $16,000, the FBI said. An insurance company also paid more than $230,000 in life insurance to Davis so-called nephew.
The womens scheme unraveled when two insurance took a closer look at the claims, the FBI said.
After an insurance investigator started asking questions, Crump and her accomplices exhumed the coffin that allegedly contained Davis remains and filled it with a mannequin and cow parts to ensure the proper weight. The women then sent the coffin to a crematory and filed fraudulent documents with the County of Los Angeles stating the remains were scattered at sea.
Investigators with the FBIs Los Angeles office also learned that Crump offered a physician $50,000 to create medical records documenting the phony death certificate.
Crump is scheduled to be sentenced on November 29 for her role in the scheme. She faces a maximum sentence of 90 years in prison, the FBI said.
The jury in Crumps case, which returned its verdict on August 27, could not reach a decision on two mail fraud charges connected to a $50,000 life insurance policy for a woman who died in 2004, the FBI said.
The other women charged in connection with this insurance scheme, the FBI said, are:
• Faye Shilling, 61, of Hawthorne, California. She has pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and is also scheduled to be sentenced on November 29;
• Barbara Ann Lynn, 64, of Los Angeles, California. She has pleaded guilty for her role in the scam and was sentenced to one-year of home detention as part of three-year probation;
• Lydia Eileen Pearce, 35, of Signal Hill, California. She pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on November 8.
The FBI said each of the women brought their own expertise to the scheme. Crump and Pearce, for example, worked in mortuaries and knew about funerals and death documents. Shilling, a phlebotomist, understood how to file insurance claims. And Lynn was a notary who used her stamp to make the fraudulent documents look legitimate.
Insurance companies, however, werent the only ones duped in the womens scheme.
The FBI learned the women also defrauded several financial assignment companies. Funeral homes and mortuaries often use those types of companies to advance cash for funeral expenses. In exchange for those advance payments, the companies receive a portion of the deceaseds life insurance policies.
The FBI said consumers can protect themselves from insurance fraud by:
• Reading all insurance policies carefully and only paying for coverage they ordered;
• Avoiding policies that are sold over the phone or door-to-door. Also be wary if the price for the coverage seems too low;
• Always writing premium checks to the insurer not the agent. And never sign a blank claim form;
• Checking with their states insurance department to ensure the company and agent are licensed. Consumers should contact those departments if they suspect theyve become a victim of insurance fraud.