By MICHAEL GILBERT
Tacoma News Tribune
November 04, 2005
Rolf G. Evans, 60, took payments from the unidentified funeral operator for as long as five years before investigators uncovered the scheme in September, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The funeral director complained to Evans' boss after Evans demanded that payments to him be hiked to $500, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
Federal agents arrested Evans as he arrived for work Wednesday. He is a 21-year civilian employee at the Army post.
U.S. District Judge Karen Strombom released him after an afternoon court appearance on a single count of extortion. A preliminary hearing was set for Nov. 21.
Evans shook his head several times as a prosecutor read the charge. He did not enter a plea Wednesday and made no comment to reporters as he left the courthouse.
An assistant U.S. attorney, David Reese Jennings, and an Army lawyer, Maj. Aaron Wagner, said they believe that none of the remains were those of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Those cases are handled at the U.S. military's mortuary-affairs center at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
But they said they have not yet audited records to identify each of the cases Evans handled in which he may have taken payments.
They said investigators found no evidence that remains were mishandled or otherwise dealt with inappropriately.
However, Reese said investigators who searched Evans' desk found containers bearing three sets of cremated human remains, each labeled May 2004.
Reese said officials at Fort Lewis determined they had been sent to the post last year for disposition at area military cemeteries, and that Evans hadn't gotten around to completing the task.
Authorities declined to say how many cases Evans might have taken payments for, or the value of the contracts under his control.
The Fort Lewis public-affairs office referred all calls to the U.S. attorney's office. Army spokesmen would not identify local funeral-home companies that are under government contract to provide services to the post.
Prosecutors say the funeral-home operator told investigators that Evans began taking money from him in about 2000 - about $100 to $300 per case. Last August, Evans said the price was going up to $500, according to charging papers.
The operator refused but worried he would no longer get work from Fort Lewis. He called Evans' boss, casualty-affairs chief Patricia George, in September and told her what had happened.
George told investigators the next week that Evans tried to persuade her to stop using the funeral home.
According to charging papers, federal agents later tape-recorded telephone conversations between Evans and the funeral director in which Evans agreed to take $500. Later, federal agents watched him take the cash from the operator at the funeral home.
Jennings declined to say whether prosecutors would pursue charges against the individual who paid the kickbacks.
"It's a judgment call: Are you victimized or are you part of a bribery scheme?" the prosecutor said.
But he added that the funeral director had done "a brave thing" by coming forward and cooperating with investigators.
Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, www.shns.com
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