A Tarrant County jury found a Texas man guilty of theft in connection with the delivery of funeral services.
The prosecutor argued that he “was playing a Ponzi scheme with human flesh.” Investigators found bodies just laying at the funeral home decomposing and the couple who ran the home handing off the wrong ashes to families who had paid for cremation services.
A Tarrant County jury took less than an hour to find 41-year-old Dondre Johnson guilty of theft, as reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Johnson and his wife, Rachel Hardy-Johnson, ran the Johnson Family Mortuary until July 5, 2014.
According to the report, a Tarrant County prosecutor deemed Johnson guilty of multiple counts of theft. Johnson took compensation but then gave families the wrong sets of ashes, he argued.
An investigation ensued after the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office was notified of problems at the funeral home. The funeral company was reported to authorities after someone came into the funeral home and smelled the rotting bodies.
The Star-Telegram reported that the investigation revealed eight bodies in various stages of decomposition at the mortuary.
Johnson was convicted on two counts of felony theft of $1,500 to $20,000. He faces a maximum of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Johnson’s wife, Rachel Hardy-Johnson, serves time in a federal prison for food stamp fraud.
Johnson is also facing a criminal charge of failure to pay child support. He was arrested on a warrant out of Dallas County in September.
Johnson’s defense attorney claimed that Johnson’s wife ran the business. He argued that his client did not control the money needed to perform the promised services. The Star-Telegram reported that he argued, “I run the show but she takes care of the money. And that’s what he told the detective. I just work here,” the attorney said in describing his client’s alleged role in the business. Johnson’s lawyer argued, “You hold each employee accountable for the activity of its owner, it’s not fair. Rachel ran the show. She’s the one who signs the lease. She’s the one who pays the bills. It stops with her. It’s a family run business. But she’s the boss.”
The prosecutor reportedly told the jury, “Who is putting that bucket under those bodies collecting human fluids? Is it Rachel Johnson? No, It’s Dondre Johnson.” He told them, “Mr. Johnson was playing a Ponzi scheme with human flesh.”
A witness for the defense, a former employee of the mortuary, told the jury that Hardy-Johnson never shared ownership duties with anyone. Hardy-Johnson issued reprimands, told people when to come to work, and did the payroll. No one stood up to her, the witness said. “She’d yell at me,” he was reported to have said.
A Fort Worth police detective testified that Johnson took people’s money and deceived them about providing services. “They felt like they had paid for something to happen with their loved ones and they were sitting in a garage rotting away,” the detective testified.
The local publication reported that Johnson also faces seven misdemeanor charges for abuse of a corpse. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor. The Texas Penal Code provides that “a person commits an offense if the person, without legal authority, knowingly disinters, disturbs, damages, dissects, in whole or in part, carries away, or treats in an offensive manner a human corpse.”
The punishment phase continues Thursday on Johnson’s theft trial.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and an associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2