01/18/2012 10:01 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta funeral home co-owner guilty of fraud

The co-owner of a Lethbridge, Alta., funeral home pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of fraud for overcharging about 50 clients for caskets for cremation services.

Ralph Zentner and his wife Faith, who own the Cornerstone Funeral Home, originally both faced nine charges in total, including committing an indignity to a body for allegedly cutting the finger off a body to remove a ring. The other charges were dropped after Zentner pleaded guilty to fraud. All charges against his wife were dropped.

Between July 200 and December 2010 the funeral home charged some clients for expensive caskets then switched them with less pricey containers before cremation.

Gordon Krinke, the provincial court judge hearing the case in Lethbridge, said he needs more time to consider the sentence and adjourned court until February to set a date for sentencing.

Crown prosecutor James Pickard said in sentencing arguments that Zentner should be jailed for nine to 12 months for defrauding his funeral home clients, adding the crimes were an "egregious breach of trust" and Zentner took advantage of "people who were at their most vulnerable, people who were grieving, and looking to someone for help."

The prosecutor also said some of the victims were people who received social services, including assured income for the severely handicapped (AISH) — a support for physically and mentally disabled Albertans. Those in the care of the province get funding for funerals from the Alberta government.

The Zentners had previously called the allegations "ludicrous." Ralph Zentner said in a oral statement that he chose to take responsibility and change the funeral home's practices.