Mitchell Charged with Bilking Funeral Funds

by Lynne Lamson
Photo courtesy of the Juneau County Sheriff's Office Photo courtesy of the Juneau County Sheriff's Office

The former owner of the Thompson Funeral Home in Wonewoc is in more trouble with the law and again his alleged victims are some of the most vulnerable citizens.

Steve Mitchell, 52, has been charged with a 12 count criminal complaint alleging theft by the defrauding of individuals who had pre-arranged their funerals. The complaint identifies victims who had entrusted Mitchell to refund a few hundred dollars following a loved one's funeral, to those whose pre-paid funeral funds cannot be accounted for, all totaling $78,982.00.

The new owner of the funeral home was unable to get complete answers from Mitchell when he identified a large gap in a small number of funeral trusts accounts between 2013 and 2017, according to the complaint filed by Juneau County District Attorney Kenneth Hamm.

The new owner purchased the funeral home in July 2017. He brought the initial accounting gaps to the attention of Wonewoc Police Chief Julie Ott in October 2017. Between October and January 2018, Chief Ott and the funeral home's investigations identified the twelve victims, ranging in age from 54 to 87, many now residing in assisted living and nursing homes. The criminal complaint alleges what was found was documentation of trust agreements Mitchell entered into with individuals for payment of their funeral expenses upon death. Checks were deposited into a Thompson Funeral Home account, but the funds could not be accounted for and the new owner could not track the deposits through the funeral home records.

In the normal course of business, a trust certificate of deposit (CD) would have been made with the bank and held until the needed for the individuals' funeral expenses.

None of the victims received evidence of their trust CD's, even after repeated requests. One was told by Mitchel that it would come from the "trust company", which is a non-existent entity. Another victim never questioned the lack of a receipt or CD from the bank for her $7,000 payment for her final expenses, because she, "trusted Mitchell to take care of the business transaction," the complaint states.

The new owner of the funeral home received calls from individuals concerned about their trusts after news of Mitchell being charged with possession of child pornography was made public in July 2017. He was unable to locate files regarding some of these accounts. In most cases, the victims provided documentation of funds paid and agreements.

The trust agreements may be established to ensure payment of final expenses are not a burden to loved ones. Some of the victims made their trust agreements with Mitchell with the aid of family members, a guardian and in two cases, with the assistance of the Juneau County Department of Human Services.

If Mitchell were convicted of all nine felony counts of theft in a business setting and the three misdemeanor theft counts, he could face a maximum of 68 years in prison and/or a fine of $165,000.00.

Mitchell's initial court appearance in this matter is scheduled for April 25. There was probable cause found to bind Mitchell over for trial on the three child pornography charges following a January 31 preliminary hearing. He entered not guilty pleas on April 5 and a pre-trial conference is scheduled in that case for May 9.

*****From District Attorney Kenneth Hamm - If you or someone you know feel they have been victimized by Thompson Funeral Home or if you have additional information, please contact the Wonewoc Police Department at 608 464-3114