SOUTH BEND, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has obtained documents showing the Indiana Attorney General’s Office is continuing an investigation into career conman turned activist, Vernado Malone, and his non-profit Justice for Michiana. An RNM investigation in 2021 uncovered a scheme in which Malone was using his non-profit and influence to give him access into a funeral home where he took hundreds of full-body nude photos of the recently deceased. Alford’s Mortuary in South Bend, which was working with Malone, settled a lawsuit with multiple families of the deceased. However, a lawsuit is still pending regarding Malone and Justice for Michiana.
Malone founded Justice for Michiana with a stated goal of helping families of homicide victims with funeral costs. However, on top of the nude picture scheme, he has been accused of stealing money, selling food stamps and using his influence to solicit sex from vulnerable women.
RNM first reported the Attorney General's involvement in investigating the case back in October of 2021. However, a letter dated March 15th of this year shows an investigator reaching out to another potential victim of Malone's.
This letter, sent to current South Bend Common Council Candidate, Roosevelt Stewart (R), is requesting information regarding money he provided to Malone and Justice for Michiana for funeral arrangements involving Stewart's 22-year-old daughter who passed away in June of 2022.
Stewart tells RNM that he paid nearly $7,000 in cash to Justice for Michiana for funeral arrangements. He gave no money to a funeral home, instead everything was to be given directly to Malone's non-profit. Due to Alford's Mortuary stopping their relationship with Malone, Malone started a partnership with a Rawls Mortuary out of Indianapolis and sent Stewart's daughter's body to that facility to be embalmed and dressed.
It turns out, Rawls Mortuary lost their funeral license in August for leaving a body out, not embalming it and letting it decompose beyond recognition. Benjamin Rawls, who owns that funeral home, had also been in trouble before for hiding the bodies of two babies in a drop ceiling.
Stewart suspects mistreatment of his daughter's body as well.
"There was a smell." He told RNM. "It was like spoiled milk."
There's also concern about what his money was truly spent on. Stewart did not use a funeral home for a wake or service and instead used a local church. Most churches ask for a voluntary donation. However, Justice for Michiana claimed there was a set cost for that service, amounting to thousands of dollars.
There's also the question about money raised in a GoFundMe campaign. Stewart tells RNM that he was not shown the GoFundMe as Justice for Michiana handled it. He and his family were never given any money raised and instead he was given a few hundred dollars "discount" from services rendered by Malone's organization.
SOUTH BEND GIVES TAX PAYER GRANT TO CONVICTED FELON
This is not the first time Malone is involved in potential illegal activity. He has spent nearly his entire adult life conning companies and non-profits -- including stealing $100,000 from the American Redcross. Federal court records show he 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, including an arrest for child molestation. Malone recently 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.
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.
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