Wichman Monuments president slapped with theft charges
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.