Pasco cemetery gives back money to former employee's scam victim

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A 74-year old woman from Pasco County thought she was buying her own burial plot, but was actually being duped out of $2,400.

She wanted to make her own after-life plans, including where she’d be buried at Grace Memorial Gardens. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office says she signed a contract with Michael Ritz, of Trinity, to secure the plot, but it turns out, Ritz was a fraud.

"His judgment is poor. He has no integrity," said Sgt. Chris Thomas of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. “It is very disgusting that he would take advantage of an elderly woman like that.” 

It started back in March, when the victim decided to buy a space at Grace Memorial Gardens off US 19 in Hudson. Deputies say she met with Ritz, who was an employee at Grace Memorial Gardens at the time.

She signed a pre-need contract and paid with a check.

”The name was left blank on the check. The price was on the there. Michael Ritz decided to put his name on the check,” the deputy said.

So the $2,400 went straight to him and there was no burial plot. Deputies say all she got was a fake receipt.  

In November, when the woman had second thoughts, the alleged scheme began to unravel.

“If she didn’t come forward, then no one would ever know. He'd get away with that money,” he said.

Ritz was fired from Grace Memorial Gardens and the company reimbursed the woman's money. Grace Memorial said there don’t appear to be any other victims, and in a statement to FOX 13, this was an “unfortunate situation” and  it is "committed to serving our customers with the utmost integrity and respect.”

Michael Ritz since started working at another cemetery, Memory Gardens in Tampa. On his first day, which was Thursday, he was arrested and charged with grand theft.