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February 25, 2014

Sellersburg man accused of funeral-casket scam in Indiana, Kentucky

Investigators say Robert M. Kraft schemed nearly $35K from families

JEFFERSONVILLE — A Sellersburg man is believed to have swindled nearly $35,000 out of several area families preparing for funeral and burial services through a casket-sales scam.

Robert M. Kraft, 53, Lane Avenue, appeared in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Monday after a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

After the court appearance, Kraft was booked into the Clark County jail for four minutes, then released on his own recognizance, stemming from a court order.

Kraft has been charged with class C felony knowing or intentional misuse or wrongful dispersal of funds in a trust or escrow and class D felony theft.

He is also facing charges in Kentucky on allegations he conducted the same scheme on eight individuals.

A pretrial conference has been scheduled for April 28 in Clark County, and a jury trial has been set for July.

Clark County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said it makes sense for the state to allow Kraft to walk, despite the severity and sensitive nature of the allegations, because he can more easily pay back the alleged stolen funds if he is not incarcerated.

“[Kraft] is in the process of compiling that money to pay the restitution back, and this has been in the works for a while,” Mull said. “His [Jefferson County, Ky. public defender] called me and said Kraft would turn himself in on the warrant, if I agreed to release him on the bond condition that he continue accumulating all the money to pay back his victims.”

Mull said he didn’t want Kraft to put money toward his bond, if those funds could be returned to the alleged victims instead.

“That would just have delayed [the victims] getting their money back, so that is why we worked out that arrangement,” he said.

Mull said he typically would not recommend a release with no bond payment for a class C felony charge, but he considered the effect on the victims, not just Kraft.

“In this case, a lot of the victims are older and in need of the money,” he said. “It was my opinion, that it would be better to take the money he had and get it to the victims quicker, rather than tie it up in a bond in Clark County where it would probably sit for a year while the case is pending with the victims needing that money in the meantime.”

Mull said Kraft is under the supervision of the Jefferson County courts, where he has another deal in place to pay restitution to those his is accused of duping in Kentucky.

The Jeffersonville Police Department began investigating Kraft in December after one of his nine alleged victims came to police headquarters to file a fraud report. The Jeffersonville man claimed he had paid Kraft $4,700 for two caskets under a pre-needs arrangement.

He told a JPD officer that Kraft had come to his home Sept. 12, 2012, at which time  “ ... Kraft had made a sales pitch to him about being an individual not with a company that was selling coffins.”

The man had never attempted to make contact with Kraft since the encounter at his home, and told police, “ ... he was under the impression that Kraft would get the coffins when [he] required the need for them,” according to the probable cause affidavit leading to Kraft’s arrest.

The man told police he had purchased a casket for his wife and himself in 2008 or 2009 from Caskets Royale, located in Louisville, a company where Kraft was previously employed. Caskets Royale later stopped its operations, and checks were sent out to those clients who had paid for pre-needs services, including the Jeffersonville man, who received a refund in early 2012.

He told police that months later, he received a phone call from Kraft telling him he could offer a pre-needs trust, according to the affidavit.

After several additional phone calls, Kraft went to the man’s home and collected two checks for $2,190 and $2,590 for payment of two caskets. Both of the checks were later cashed by Kraft, according to the affidavit.

The Jeffersonville man had not considered he was the victim of a fraud until he was contacted by an investigator with the Office of the Attorney General in Kentucky, at which time he was told eight Kentucky residents had filed reports of fraud against Kraft for the purchase of coffins.

A JPD investigator made contact with the attorney general’s office Jan. 6.

The Kentucky investigator later provided JPD with documents and a recorded interview between Kraft and attorney general investigators. According to the affidavit, in the recorded interview, “Kraft admitted to cashing the checks, but never purchased any of the caskets. Kraft indicated he would purchase them when they were needed.”

The Office of Kentucky Attorney General’s report shows that Kraft was once employed by Casket Royale, and that the business was purchased in 2009 by Neace Enterprises, which dissolved in 2011.

The pre-needs arrangements that were purchased through Casket Royale were transferred to Neace Enterprises, and when that business closed, clients were notified that they would receive refunds for their previous purchases.

Kraft told investigators that he maintained phone numbers that Neace Enterprises had from Casket Royale by personally paying the phone bill.

“Kraft was able to obtain a list of those clients that received refunds and contacted most of those clients offering his service,” according to the affidavit. “Victims of Robert Kraft’s scheme stated that they were told that their caskets and vaults were being stored in a warehouse and would be available when needed.”

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office reported, “All monies in the form of check or cash were used to Kraft for personal gain, this by his own admission. In total, Kraft was able to obtain $30,752.99 from the victims.”

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