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Friday, September 28th, 2007

Monument co. owner charged with theft

By Margie Wuebker
A Celina businesswoman faces 24 counts of theft by deception alleging she accepted nearly $52,000 from customers but never delivered the cemetery monuments or grave markers they ordered.
Mary Jo Pearson, 65, owner and operator of Pearson Memorials of rural Celina, is scheduled to make an initial appearance in Mercer County Common Pleas Court at 2 p.m. Oct. 10. The time and date are included in a summons authorities served earlier this week.
Pearson has been the subject of an ongoing investigation that began nearly a year ago after the Mercer County Sheriff's Office received complaints from customers who had purchased monuments or markers for loved ones only to find the graves bare after more than a year.
The grand jury indictment lists 24 alleged victims identified as either Jane or John Doe. Fifteen of them are women and nine are men with six listed as elderly making those charges fourth-degree felonies. The remaining charges are fifth-degree felonies, with one listed as a misdemeanor.
The offenses date back to Jan. 27, 2004, with three allegedly taking place this year. One of the counts alleges she deprived an elderly man of $9,735 by taking his money and never ordering the monument. This is the largest amount listed in the indictment.
Authorities executed a search warrant this summer at Pearson's business/home at 5218 state Route 29, seizing boxes of paperwork as well as three computers. They spent nearly eight hours sorting through stacks of papers searching for such things as contracts, written communications with suppliers and purchasers, income tax and sales tax returns and bank account records.
Detectives Chris Hamberg and Lance Crum faced a challenge during the lengthy investigation since some of the victims and many of the monument companies were located out of state.
Deputies found a suspicious wrapped package at the scene, which drew the attention of a Cridersville Police Department K-9 unit also at the scene. The package, wrapped in multiple layers of clear plastic, contained a dark substance initially thought to be some type of drugs.
Chemical analysis of the contents identified it as hydraulic cement, a substance reportedly used in setting monuments.
Pearson's son, 45-year-old Matthias J. Pearson of the same address, was charged with aggravated menacing, resisting arrest and obstructing official business during the incident. The misdemeanors are being handled in Celina Municipal Court.
The aggravated menacing warrant was issued after he allegedly threatened a customer who called to complain about non-delivery of an ordered gravestone. Matthias Pearson owns Matt's Softwater, operating at the same location as the monument business.
Some unhappy customers reportedly filed civil complaints against the monument business earlier in municipal court and had their cases settled, meaning they are not included as victims in the recent indictment.
If convicted, the business proprietor faces up to 18 months in prison and $5,000 in fines for the fourth-degree felony charges and 12 months in prison and $2,500 in fines for the fifth-degree felony. The lone misdemeanor carries the possibility of an additional six months behind bars and a $1,000 fine.
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