September 16, 2014

Weishuhn sentenced to 12 months in jail, five years of probation

Tim Barnum
Arenac County Corrections Officer Kari Kroczaleski escorts Richard Weishuhn from the courtroom to the Arenac County Jail in handcuffs at the end of the hearing.
Tim Barnum
Public Guardian Kathy Taylor addresses the court on behalf of her clients who were victims.
Tim Barnum
Ken Adrian speaks about Weishuhn's willingness to help out the community.
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STANDISH — Richard Weishuhn, the longtime owner of the R.O. Savage Funeral Chapel in Standish, was sentenced to 12 months in jail and five years of probation for embezzling prepaid funeral funds in 23rd Circuit Court July 9.

Weishuhn pleaded guilty in to one count of embezzlement of more than $100,000 in circuit court May 21.

Judge Ronald Bergeron said the jail sentence would be reevaluated by the court after eight months to determine if the victims of the embezzlement were in fact being made whole, as Weishuhn’s attorney, Michael Manley, said they would be.

“In about eight months, we’re going to evaluate whether there are any real victims at that time,” he said.

Bergeron said if it was found after eight months that victims did not receive their prepaid services at the funeral home, which has been purchased by Lee-Ramsay Funeral Homes, the full 12 months would be served and a prison sentence could be reconsidered.

Bergeron deviated from the Michigan Department of Corrections’ sentencing guidelines when handing down the sentence. The MDOC recommended a prison sentence of 21-35 months. He said he did not make his deviation out of sympathy for Weishuhn, but because sending him to prison could make it more difficult for the victims to recoup the approximately $611,000 in restitution.

“I’m doing this because I think this method has a better chance of making sure there aren’t any real victims,” he said.

“I could send Mr. Weishuhn to prison,” Bergeron continued. “I’m sure some people think I should. Maybe they’re right.”

Prior to the sentence being handed down, Manley said he had been a part of numerous embezzlement cases where the victims were not made whole financially. Manley said he and Weishuhn had worked tirelessly with Alison Furtaw of the Attorney General’s office to accomplish just that.

“Most people, as the court knows, never get their money back, never get their services,” he said.

Since R.O. Savage’s license was suspended in January and Weishuhn was charged with embezzlement in April, no one with a contract has gone without a funeral, Manley said.

“He’s a terrible businessman, but he never, ever reneged on someone’s funeral,” he said.

Manley said Weishuhn had already confessed to the crime and told him to put the victims first when he hired Manley to represent him.

“He told me under no circumstances did he want anybody left out in the cold,” he said.

Manley said $100,000 had been placed in a fund regulated by the Michigan Licensing and Regulation Agency and $50,000 had been placed in a trust overseen by him to help with ensuring the victims could either get their money back or receive their services. He said Weishuhn has sold his home and business to provide money for the funds. Manley said nearly all of the victims had been contacted and 75 percent of them said they wanted their existing contracts honored by Lee Ramsay Funeral Homes.

Victims in the case were given a chance to speak during the sentencing hearing. Kathy Taylor of the Arenac County Public Guardian’s office said clients of the office had more than $70,000 in prepaid funeral agreements. She said her office and clients could never trust Weishuhn again.

“You will never get our trust and loyalty back,” she said. “You might buy another business. You might buy another home but you will never get that back from us.”

Taylor said the people she represented would be devastated by Weishuhn’s crime.

“I am so sorry for them,” she said. “I’m so hurt by you.”

Susan Duggan, who retired from the Detroit Police Department before moving to Arenac County, said she could not believe that someone would commit a crime like Weishuhn’s in the area.

“When I came to Forest Lake, Standish, West Branch area, it was a great privilege to be here and meet so many kind people,” she said. “Then to run into him, it’s unbelievable that he could do this to his friends and community”

“You took my money. Shame on you. You should go to jail,” Duggan said.

Jennie Moll said she felt Weishuhn should not even be fed and should have to hold a shovel and dig graves to keep his word to the people he had arrangements with. Moll said she did not believe it was right that Weishuhn was granted the right to go to North Carolina in June for the birth of his grandchild, which Bergeron allowed after Weishuhn pleaded guilty.

Speaking on behalf of Mary Charchan, Tracy and Dennis Charchan said when they met with Weishuhn regarding Mary’s funeral arrangements in 2012, they were assured the proper regulations would be followed.

“He repeatedly assured us Mary’s money was safe,” Tracy said.

“He looked us straight in the eyes and reassured us and shook our hand after the check was presented,” she continued.

Tracy said Weishuhn lived a “lavish” lifestyle compared to Mary, who was barely living out of poverty.

“Paying back his victims is not punishment,” she said. “It is just restitution.”

However, not all of those who were allowed to speak said they felt the same way. Jeanette Cristoforo, the second victim given a chance to address the court, requested leniency. Cristoforo said she felt she would have received a beautiful and decent funeral and burial despite the circumstances.

Ken Adrian was included on the victim’s list, although as Bergeron pointed out, did not distinguish himself as a victim, but as a long time employee of the R.O. Savage Funeral Home. Adrian said Weishuhn was always generous when organizations came around looking for donations and refused to make donations with business funds, which would allow for a tax write-off.

“His answer always was, ‘If that was the case then it wouldn’t be a donation,’” he said.

“I think the community has lost a great friend in this situation,” Adrian continued.

After the hearing concluded, Weishuhn was handcuffed and escorted to the Arenac County Jail.

In January, LARA suspended R.O. Savage’s funeral license after an investigation into the funeral home discovered that more than $600,000 in prepaid funeral funds were not escrowed, as required by state law.

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