SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Two families are suing a local funeral home and its partner “activist” in a case where nude photos were taken of their dead relatives and then shown multiple times to members of the public. This comes about a year after a REAL News Michiana investigation uncovered the disturbing scheme. And, months after an investigation by retired St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Commander turned private investigator, Tim Corbett submitted his own investigation to the Indiana Attorney General.
In March of 2021, RNM published a story outlining how Vernado Malone, a convicted felon and the owner and founder of the Justice for Michiana non-profit, was taking the full-body nude pictures at Alford’s Mortuary then showing them to random members of the public. Malone’s Justice for Michiana organization, which was funded by the City of South Bend, claimed to be assisting families of homicide victims with funeral costs. RNM has interviewed dozens of people who were shown the pictures. The Indiana Attorney General has since opened an investigation into the disturbing scheme.
The lawsuits outline the partnership between Malone and Alford’s Mortuary, claiming Malone would solicit families to use the local funeral home while presenting himself as a representative of the business.
“Defendant Malone captured hundreds of lewd and illicit photographs of corpses
as they were being prepared for funerary services. These photographs include multiple
photographs of Mr. Garcia’s (deceased) body including explicit photographs of his exposed genitals.” One of the lawsuits states. “With the images stored on his personal cellular phone, Defendant Malone used the pictures as part of his sales pitch to grieving families as well as to other local funeral homes.”
“Defendant Malone also regularly showed these pictures to members of the public
and would make inappropriate sexual comments about the bodies of the deceased..” The lawsuit continues.
The lawsuits also describe Malone sharing the photographs with members of the public in a government office. RNM knows Malone showed several pictures to employees of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office. Malone still frequently visits the office to have discussions with another “activist” Aisha Avance, who is also an employee of Voter Registration. Avance was also aware of the pictures and did nothing to stop them from being disseminated throughout the office.
Avance, using Justice for Michiana, went as far as filing for an erroneous protection order against RNM to prevent us from continuing our investigation. That order was eventually dismissed. And, RNM is now filing a lawsuit for the frivolous action taken by a government employee in an attempt to hide the corruption and potential crimes.
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 Malone has 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. Malone petitioned the court to expunge those records last year.
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.
Last year, 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.
However, Malone is not the only criminal the city handed taxpayer dollars over to. RNM’s investigations into the Alive Grant and its awardees have lead to the discovery of several other potential criminal acts.
RNM discovered the city changed the name on one grant to give money to a friend of the Director of Community Initiatives, Maurice Scott. A notice of tort was issued in that case. You can read all about that here.
Another awardee, Wright Chosen Ministries and its founder Lori Wright, is accused of taking food stamps from homeless families and selling them to a woman in Louisiana. You can read more about that story here.
RNM discovered the city gave thousands of dollars to a convicted murderer who had been out of prison for less than a year. You can read about that here.
The city also gave grant money to a federally convicted armed robber.
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