SOUTH BEND, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has learned two city funded activists were banned from the St. Joseph County Coroner’s Office due to suspicions of scams raised by former coroner Michael McGann. McGann tells RNM he banned Vernado Malone, the founder of the non-profit Justice for Michiana, and Aisha Avance, former Justice for Michiana board member and head of the non-profit CHOICES for Life. Avance is also an employee of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office.
Justice for Michiana was created to allegedly help the families of homicide victims pay for funerals. However, in March, an RNM investigation uncovered a disturbing scheme in which Malone would take full body nude pictures of the recently deceased and then share those photos with strangers and friends. Witnesses tell RNM Malone would claim to be a detective and a police officer, using the pictures to attempt to show legitimacy. You can read more about the scheme here.
“We did not assume anything with him (and Avance by extension) was legal. We just did not, period.” McGann, who was the St. Joseph County Coroner from 2017-2021, said. “We dealt with him (Malone) for a couple of years, my last two years in office. He showed up on a lot of scenes that we were at, mostly they were homicide scenes… I’m sure he didn’t know them, but he would be in the crowd with the families at a lot of different scenes we had.”
Malone has claimed to have had a partnership with the former coroner. Representing that claim to families and to the public, something McGann adamantly denies.
“He would come up to my office quite a bit on the 4th floor of the County City Building and want copies of reports, which we don’t give out… He was requesting everything from autopsy reports, any investigative reports we had. Which is forbidden.” McGann said. “He would be confrontational with my administrative assistant. She had many, many confrontations with Vernado. She would call me many times and ask what to do, I would say ‘Deny him everything.'”
McGann says Malone would also claim to be working for and with law enforcement.
“Many times (he would claim to be working with the police and homicide unit) many times. And the thing is, we know everybody that works at Metro. We know that he would never be allowed to work at Metro.”
Multiple citizens who had been scammed by Malone, tell RNM they went to the Coroner’s Office to retrieve property like clothes and jewelry removed from their loved one’s bodies. While at the office, they claim they were told that property was given to Vernado Malone.
McGann says his office did not maintain any property and everything is taken to the funeral home the families decide to use. Property on the bodies would then be handled by the funeral home.
Malone had “partnerships” with multiple funeral homes, including Alfords Mortuary, where he was given private access to take several nude photos of dead bodies at which time he could have also removed property from the deceased.
“He would just come in, tell us who he is and he is representing the family. Well, you know, we knew better because if you’re representing the family, show me you are the next of kin. Otherwise, you don’t get anything.” McGann explained. “He’s not considered a police agency. He’s not considered a reporter… He’s not that. We know that. We’re not stupid. And, we treated it as such.”
“To me, the whole thing was a big scam.” McGann said.
RNM uncovered a fraudulent grant scheme involving Aisha Avance, the other person who McGann barred from the Coroner’s Office. You can read about that here.
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