A former funeral director who forged the death certificates of 13 people who were still alive so he could receive payouts from their insurance companies has been sentenced to two years house arrest.
"I want to apologize to everybody who put their trust in me," Mike Knysh told Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin at a sentencing hearing Tuesday. "What I did was not right and I deeply regret it."
Knysh, 47, was sentenced to an additional three years supervised probation and ordered to pay $68,000 in restitution.
The conditional sentence order will allow Knysh, now working as a truck driver "an opportunity to make amends by way of restitution," Crown attorney Mandy Ambrose told Martin.
Knysh, who operated Knysh Funeral Chapel locations in Winnipeg and Beausejour, was arrested in 2018 following a year-long investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service’s financial crimes unit.
Court heard Knysh forged death certificates of three living customers in 2004 and another 10 customers between 2012 and 2014 who had come to Knysh for pre-arranged funerals.
In April 2017, several customers came forward to Winnipeg police to report their funds for pre-arranged funerals had never been placed in trust, as required.
An examination of Knysh Funeral Chapel’s business records showed it was in financial trouble, Ambrose told court. The business closed prior to Knysh’s arrest.
Ambrose said Knysh used the fraudulently obtained insurance payouts to pay funeral expenses for eight pre-arranged funeral customers who died.
"Though not a mitigating factor, the motive should be considered by the court," Ambrose said. "From a thorough review of the bank account records and statements of some of the victims, the Crown can say it really was a scenario where the accused was stealing from Peter to pay Paul…. The motivation here did not appear to be greed or a lavish lifestyle."
Knysh opened Knysh Funeral Chapel in 1997, fulfilling a dream he harboured since he was a teenager driving his funeral home employer’s hearse, said defence lawyer Frank Coniglio.
Knysh, Coniglio told court, wanted to provide customers a more personal and affordable alternative to the big players in the industry.
"He became respected and trusted for the work that he did… (but) in some measure that may be why his services failed in the end," he said.
While Knysh was solely responsible for the crimes that brought him to court, Coniglio argued slipshod practices of those under him put the business in a precarious financial position.
"He’s responsible for the decisions and misjudgments that he made and he knows he must be held accountable," Coniglio said.
Knysh moved to Alberta after the closure of his business, where he got a job with another funeral home, but was fired after news of his arrest was made public, Coniglio said.
"He was essentially blackballed from the industry at that point," he said.
Knysh was scheduled to go on trial in April to face 13 forgery charges and 11 counts of fraud. The fraud charges were stayed in exchange for guilty pleas on the forgeries.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.
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