Police pursue monumental thefts

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Indiana State Police and Putnam County Prosecutor's office announced Monday that criminal charges are being sought against the former owner of a Greencastle monument company who they say bilked customers out of thousands of dollars worth of headstones that were never delivered.

The former owner of Greencastle Monuments, Angela Michelle Stark, 40, Crawfordsville, is accused of taking orders for headstones from grieving family members and then pocketing the cash.

From the time she opened her doors in 2003 to when she filed for bankruptcy in early 2005, Stark is believed to have stolen nearly $20,000 from numerous victims, including $10,000 worth of headstones she allegedly ordered from a headstone manufacturing company and never paid for.

Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter announced Monday that he has obtained a warrant for Stark's arrest and will charge her with seven counts of felony theft.

Bookwalter said he began receiving complaints from residents about a year ago and decided to contact Detective Scott Stockton with the white collar crimes unit of the Indiana State Police.

In his probable cause affidavit, Stockton identified and interviewed six victims with a total losses of around $9,000, however, he said he believes there are many other victims who have not yet come forward.

"We believe there are others out there who haven't come forward or who don't know they've been victimized," Stockton said.

Bookwalter explained that Stark acted as the middle man between the customers and the companies who made the headstones. Stark is accused of collecting deposits from customers -- generally between $1,000 and $1,500 each -- and then never placing the orders with the monument company.

Stockton said in his report that Stark would continually deceive her victims by telling them the order for their headstone had been dropped, the etching on the stone was still being completed, the stone was accidentally sold to someone else or the foundation for the stone had not been completed.

The alleged crimes are particularly disturbing for police who say many of the victims were elderly residents buying the stones for a spouse who had just died or who was nearing death.

"I am both outraged and bewildered how anyone could take advantage of people during their most vulnerable time of need," Bookwalter said Monday. "It is intolerable to prey on the elderly after they have lost a spouse."

Stockton, who routinely deals with crimes of this nature, said the elderly often fall victim to these types of schemes and that often they choose not to report it. He said the elderly fear their adult children will think they are incompetent and will take control of their finances if they find out they've been victimized.

"What happens is they get victimized twice," Stockton said. "First they lose their money and then they fear losing their independence."

Stockton said several of the victims he spoke with during his investigation were reluctant to talk about it because it is such an emotional situation.

In his report, he identified a man from Montgomery County whose wife became seriously ill after having a lung transplant. The man told investigators that Stark came to his home and solicited a check for $1,200 from his wife on her "death bed." When the woman died two months later, the headstone never came.

"The said thing is that there are so many victims," Stockton said.

He said he hopes that by publicizing Stark's arrest more people will come forward. He is encouraging people who feel they have been victimized to call the prosecutor's office or the state police.

Bookwalter said law enforcement were going to arrest Stark on Monday.

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