A funeral home in Lethbridge, Alta., is facing charges of fraud and offering indignities to dead bodies, police said Wednesday.

The owners of Cornerstone Funeral Home are accused of repeatedly using a rental casket without replacing the lining and carrying out cremations using cardboard shipping materials "and other refuse," Lethbridge police said.

They are also accused of cutting the finger off a body to remove a ring, police said.

Investigators also allege the business owners defrauded the Alberta government by cutting corners on cremations they were contracted to do for the province. The funeral home used inexpensive trays instead of caskets, but billed the cremations at a higher price, police said.

The offences are alleged to have happened from 1996 to 2006.

Ralph and Faith Zentner, both 46, are each charged with numerous fraud offences and with offering an indignity to a dead human body or human remains.

Zentner said he's maintained high standards for the 15 years he's run Cornerstone Funeral Home.

"We were flabbergasted," he said of hearing of the allegations.

"We plan to vigorously defend the charges. We don't understand who would gain from these ludicrous allegations."

The couple are slated to make a court appearance in March.
Regulatory board received complaint

Catherine Cavanaugh, who chairs the Alberta Funeral Services Regulatory Board, said she is concerned about how the incident might impact the rest of the funeral industry in the province.

"Well, that's the problem: this is a very professional industry and they have very professional standards. And we certainly wish to maintain it and support them in this," she said.

The board received the original complaint from an employee at Cornerstone in 2005, sparking the investigation, she said.

The regulatory board licenses all funeral homes and inspects them every 18 months to two years.

Cavanaugh said the board will meet soon to determine whether the Lethbridge business will be stripped of its licence.

Another funeral home director worried the case could damage the reputation of the business.

"If these charges are true, there's going to be a huge fallout in the funeral industry," said Scott Kuntz of Lethbridge's Christensen Salmon Generations Funeral Home.

Police said the case involves at least 47 people who had their funeral arrangements taken care of by the provincial government.