Co-owner of Smith Manor arrested for fraud

Last week, Madera County Sheriff’s Detectives arrested Sharlane Smith, co-owner of Smith Manor Grace Chapel in Madera, on numerous counts of fraud. Her arrest follows several weeks of investigation into allegations that Smith Manor was intentionally over-charging the County of Madera for coroner’s services not provided over a period of many years. Smith has also been accused of committing insurance fraud by keeping left-over monies from insurance policies for funeral expenses.

Smith Manor has held the county’s coroner services contract since 2004 and has been responsible for transportation, storage, autopsy facilities, and dispositions of deceased persons in Madera County. Evidence uncovered by detectives indicates that Smith was intentionally adding charges to the monthly billing to the county for services that were not actually provided.

A Search Warrant was served on the business on March 31, and several employees were interviewed. Smith was later arrested on 25 counts related to fraud and theft, and her bail was set at $125,000. She is currently out on bail. Numerous business records were seized during the service of the Search Warrant and will continue to be examined as the investigation continues.

Smith Manor, which has held the county contract for coroner services since 2004, will no longer be doing so for Madera County. Instead, according to Sheriff Jay Varney, Merced County and Jay’s Chapel in Madera are now helping cover the coroner responsibilities for the county. Services to the citizens of Madera County should not be affected during the course of this investigation.

Sheriff Varney stated, “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.”

Varney estimated the county lost $110,000 over the past four years.

- Madera County Sheriff’s Office