Wich­man Mon­u­ments pres­i­dent slapped with theft charges

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE PARE STAFF WRITER

The pres­i­dent of a long­time Chat­tanooga grave marker com­pany has been charged with seven counts of theft af­ter the busi­ness sud­denly closed ear­lier this year and left scores of peo­ple with­out their or­ders.

Trent Daniel Wich­man, who headed Wich­man Mon­u­ments, was in­dicted Wed­nes­day in Hamilton County on theft of prop­erty charges.

Wich­man, who is ex­pected to make an ap­pear­ance in Crim­i­nal Court within the next two weeks, could not be reached for com­ment.

The in­dict­ment said there were five in­stances in which Wich­man between Jan. 1, 2017, and March 1, 2018, un­law­fully and know­ingly ob­tained or ex­er­cised con­trol of prop­erty val­ued at $2,500 or more but less than $10,000.

In two counts, Wich­man al­legedly took the same ac­tion in­volv­ing more than $1,000 but less than $2,500,

ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

The vic­tims were iden­ti­fied as Brian Thomp­son of Chat­tanooga; Dean Caleb of Hix­son, Ten­nessee; Geneva Perkins of El­li­jay, Ge­or­gia; James Lit­tle of Hix­son, Ten­nessee; Richard Wat­son, ad­dress un­known; San­dra Priest of Chat­tanooga; and Shirley Myky­tyn of Tem­ple, Ge­or­gia.

In Fe­bru­ary, the lo­cal Bet­ter Busi­ness Bureau be­gan to re­ceive com­plaints about Wich­man Mon­u­ments, a 72-year-old grave marker busi­ness on Brain­erd Road. The busi­ness had sud­denly closed and left many cus­tomers with­out their or­ders.

In March, the Chat­tanooga Po­lice Depart­ment said it had opened a fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing com­plaints.

Also that month, Trent Wich­man said the busi­ness had shut down per­ma­nently. A state­ment said the clo­sure was pre­cip­i­tated by ris­ing costs and the loss of some key em­ploy­ees to ill­ness.

In May, an at­tor­ney for a com­pany try­ing to set­tle claims re­lated to Wich­man Mon­u­ments said there were 260 cases in­volv­ing cus­tomers of the busi­ness be­ing ex­am­ined.

Me­ly­dia Clewell, a spokes­woman for Hamilton County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Gen­eral Neal Pinkston’s of­fice, said Fri­day it’s not known if any more charges are coming, say­ing that’s up to the Chat­tanooga Po­lice Depart­ment.

“They can al­ways go back and file ad­di­tional charges,” she said. The po­lice depart­ment had no com­ment.

Wanda Ray of Chat­tanooga said Fri­day she had paid $2,747 to Wich­man Mon­u­ments early this year for a pair of mon­u­ments and was still await­ing a re­fund.

“No­body can af­ford to lose $3,000,” she said. “It makes me pretty mad.”

Ray said she has or­dered new mon­u­ments from an­other com­pany and needed the re­fund money to pay that busi­ness.

Jerry Rich of Steven­son, Alabama, said ear­lier he had paid $4,300 up front last year for a monument for his wife of 50 years who died in 2017 and he had never re­ceived the marker from Wich­man.

Rich had ex­pressed frus­tra­tion it had taken so long for Wich­man to re­spond to his and other com­plaints.

Ter­rance L. Jones of the Pres­ley Law Firm in Chat­tanooga said Fri­day he hadn’t been re­tained by Wich­man re­lated to the crim­i­nal case and had no com­ment on the charges.

But con­cern­ing the claims, Jones said he es­ti­mated there were fewer than 20 re­funds to process and less than 40 mon­u­ments to have in­stalled.

Ei­ther mon­u­ments were de­liv­ered to peo­ple who had claims, plans were to turn or­ders over to man­u­fac­tur­ers, money was re­funded, or no pay­ment was ever made by cus­tomers, he said.

Jones said in­stal­la­tion work had been slowed down by re­cent rains.

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