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AG Opens Investigation Into Funeral Home, Activist

Vernado Malone and Donald Alford Sr.
From left to right: Vernado Malone, Donald Alford Sr.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has officially opened an investigation into a local funeral home and its relationship with a local activist, who happens to be a multiple convicted felon. In a letter obtained by REAL News Michiana, an official for the Attorney General explained they are starting an independent investigation into Alford’s Mortuary.

All of this stems from an investigation by former St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Commander, Tim Corbett, and a subsequent investigation by REAL News Michiana. Those investigations uncovered a disturbing partnership between the mortuary and Vernado Malone, who founded and operates a local non-profit called Justice for Michiana. The investigations revealed Alford’s Mortuary gave unsupervised access to Malone so he could take full-body nude photographs of the deceased. Malone then shared those photographs with multiple friends, strangers and business associates.

“The Unit has reviewed your consumer complaint and an investigation is pending.” The letter from the AG’s office to Tim Corbett states.

RNM first reported on the disturbing nude photo scheme in March of 2021. RNM spoke to several witnesses and Malone, who admitted to taking a sharing the photos himself.

Malone was also awarded thousands of tax-payer dollars in the form of a city grant to help facilitate the potential crimes. Malone was eventually kicked out of the grant program and the South Bend Tribune finally ran a story 9 months after RNM broke it.

Meanwhile, Donald Alford Sr., owner of Alford’s Mortuary, has been a staple in the community for decades. He has operated Alford’s Mortuary since the 1960s.

“It’d be a shame that someone who has been in the business for so long has been beat out of his career by an illiterate criminal.” Corbett said, referring to Alford’s relationship with Malone. “Once again, a local activist has cheated, lied to and harmed his own community.

Below is information from the original story published last year.

“He was bragging about how he was able to get this guy (recently deceased) put back together again and nobody else in the area could.” Trisha Carrico, who saw photos of two deceased people on Malone’s cell phone, said.

Carrico, who was working in the St. Joseph County Voter Registration office at the time, says Malone came up to the office in the fall of last year to visit Aisha Avance who is also a member of the Justice for Michiana non-profit. Avance is also an employee of the Voter Registration Office.

“He said to me while he was talking to (Avance), ‘You couldn’t handle seeing this photo.’” Carrico said. “He was talking about a man who killed himself… this man was really badly decayed.”

Carrico says Malone then showed her two photos. One before the victim’s body was worked on, the other one was after.

“It was graphic. In the first picture he was laying on a table… there really wasn’t a whole lot left of him.” She said. “In the second picture he was all dressed up, the funeral home had pretty much put the man back together again.”

Carrico says Malone then asked Avance if he should show her more pictures.

“He said, ‘Hey, should I show her a picture of that guy?’” Carrico said. “Aisha said ‘Oh Lord.’ Then he was sliding through his phone and showed me another guy.” Carrico explained.

“It was a full nude picture, shot from his feet up. He was laying on top of a sheet. He had been shot in the head.” She said.

It turns out, several of those photo’s had been taken at Alford’s Mortuary in South Bend.

“He has the gift of gab.” Donald Alford, of Alford’s Mortuary, said. “I probably didn’t supervise him as much as I should have.”

Alford told RNM that Malone has been coming to his facility with his 501(c)3 documentation and “signed releases” from the families to take pictures. Alford said he has documentation of the charity status, but did not make copies of the releases Malone claims to have.

“I have not seen the pictures. A detective called me and told me he is in possession of those photos. Even though (Malone) has a release, he can no longer take photos here.” Alford said.

Alford also told RNM that there is not partnership between Malone or Justice for Michiana.

“(Malone) has recommended for families to come here. I told him it’s against the law to steer families.” Alford said.

“Every photo we have is a consent from the next of kin where we can use that photo in our discretion.” Malone said to RNM. “So, anyone who wants to come on to the board to see different photos to make sure they can handle that type of stuff.”

Malone denied showing the photos to anyone outside of the organization.

RNM’s Clifton French asked Malone, “What purpose does it serve to take nude pictures of the recently deceased?”

“That would be confidential information.” Malone responded.

“Who knows what he’s doing with it! He could be putting it on the dark web!” Private Investigator and Former Commander of the St. Joseph County Homicide Unit, Tim Corbett said.

Corbett has been investigating this case, for free, for months.

“Malone is a liar. He has shown those photos to at least two people that I have statements from. He has also admitted, to me, that he showed photos.” Corbett said.

In transcripts of his recorded conversation with Malone, Corbett asks Malone how many nude photos he’s taken.

“We, we usually have all our, um, autopsy photos is um, a full body photo.” Malone said.

Malone is not a medical professional, an expert in forensics or a trained law enforcement detective.

SOUTH BEND GIVES TAX PAYER GRANT TO CONVICTED FELON

This is not the first time Malone is involved in potentially illegal activity. Federal court records show a Vernado Malone in the Northern Indiana District, with a criminal record spanning more than a decade.

In 1999, Vernado Malone was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for credit card fraud. He was ordered to pay more than $17,000 in restitution.

In 2005, Vernado Malone was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States and Aiding and Abetting Forfeiture Allegation. He was ordered to pay $120,000 in restitution.

In 2015, Vernado Malone was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for Mail Fraud and Aggravated Identity Theft. He was ordered to pay more than $50,000 in restitution.

There are also several state level charges and convictions. Last month, Malone petitioned the court to expunge those records.

Despite all of that, the City of South Bend awarded Malone with $7,000 in taxpayer money as part of the “Alive grant.”

According to the city’s website, the “Alive grant program is part of the City’s ongoing efforts to reduce incidents of gun violence in the community and provide constructive initiatives for South Bend’s young people.”

Attached is Malone’s grant application and the City’s award.

Justice-For-Michiana-ApplicationDownloadSB-Alive-Response-Letter_RCD2_VMaloneSr_JFMDownload

RNM reached out to Mayor James Mueller himself, who had the city’s director of communications, Caleb Bauer, respond. The city had 3 days to come up with the following statement.

“The South Bend Alive Grant Program was developed to support community-based initiatives that work to reduce incidents of gun violence in South Bend. Applicants were required to complete a narrative grant application describing their plans for prospective programming and submit a budget form detailing how grant funds would be utilized.

Recipients are required to provide quarterly updates on their programs and measurable data to the Office of Community Initiatives for review.

Grant recipients have agreed to comply with all federal, state and local laws, rules, regulations and ordinances. A grantee who violated any laws would also be in violation of the program agreement and could be subject to litigation.”

RNM asked Bauer if the city knew about Vernado Malone’s criminal record and if the city did background checks on the applicants. Bauer did not respond.

In the grant application, Malone does not divulge that he is taking nude photos of the deceased victims. RNM asked Malone why he didn’t include that information.

“It don’t need to be said.” He said.

INTIMIDATION

After RNM interviewed Malone regarding the accusations and mountain of evidence against him, Malone doxed Journalist Clifton French by posting his personal cell phone number to his non-profit’s Facebook page, in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate and bring harassment and potential violence to a journalist, who is running a story about his organization. He also accused the journalist of being a racist for covering the arrest of a local public figure who happens to be black.

Below is a screenshot of that post.

RNM supplied that post the Mayor’s Office as well, asking for comment about this tax payer funded organization potentially pushing for violence or harassment against a member of the community. The Mayor’s Office did not respond.

Also, in order to join the Justice for Michiana Facebook group, a member has to answer several questions, including whether they believe the South Bend Police are racist. A screenshot of those questions is below.

MORE TO LEARN

Corbett says he is in possession of photos of two victims. He has been able to identify one of them. He is still looking to find out who the other victim is in order to make contact with her family.

“She’s a female black, appears to be in her 60’s, dark skin, has had an autopsy performed on her and it would have been done through Alford’s.” Corbett said. “The family deserves to know what happened to their loved one.”

If you have information on who that unidentified woman could be, you can contact Tim Corbett by visiting tcorbett.org.

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