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Defense rests in trial of Ohio man accused of running phony funeral business

Shawnte Hardin faces more than 40 charges involving impersonating a funeral director, identity theft, passing bad checks and abuse of a corpse.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Evidence presented during the Shawnte Hardin bench trial showed that Hardin used the passcodes of funeral directors he was associated with so he could gain access to the Ohio Department of Health's Electronic Death Registration System. That system allows for death certificates to be entered.   

Hardin testified he used the codes, but the state argues only licensed funeral directors are allowed to enter the data.  

Taking the stand Wednesday in his own defense, Hardin refuted the state's assertion that he told people he was a funeral director. Some of his former clients have testified he never told them he was a funeral director while others have testified just the opposite.  

Hardin faces more than 40 charges involving impersonating a funeral director, identity theft, passing bad checks and abuse of a corpse. He's denied any wrongdoing.  

Hardin said he worked as a funeral administrator in conjunction with licensed funeral homes mostly in serving the Muslim community in Ohio and other states like Texas, Massachusetts and Michigan.  

During questioning by his attorney, Hardin was asked about the bodies found at his Livingston Avenue storefront back in September of last year.  

Specifically, the body of Rhonda Cooper.  

Her family requested that Hardin perform her funeral and asked she be cremated.  

Cooper's body was found a month later still in the casket in Livingston Avenue where Hardin kept her.

"It was suggested in the testimony that you waited far too long to get her cremated or buried. Why was there a delay?" asked Hardin attorney Rick Kerger. 

"There was a delay in the paperwork," Hardin said.

Without the burial permit, Hardin said he couldn't go through with the cremation.

Hardin testified he never told the family that Cooper was cremated only that he was taking the body to be cremated. Hardin was also asked why the bodies at the Livingston address were not kept in coolers.

"What I've been told is that once a body is embalmed it doesn't have to be refrigerated," said Hardin.  

Under Ohio law, no person shall hold a dead human body, for more than 48 hours unless the body is embalmed or placed into refrigeration and maintained at a constant temperature of less than 40 degrees. 

Hardin claims his role in the funeral business was to deliver funerals to families at a much lower cost than traditional funeral homes.  

His former clients say that's what he did.  

"How many families do you think you've helped over the years?" His attorney asked.  

"Hundreds if not well into the thousands," Hardin said.

Others say the costs they saved could never make up for how their loved ones were treated.  

During the state’s cross-examination, it was revealed that Hardin picked up bodies on a suspended license and despite being on probation for a felony charge out of Portage County drove out of state. The state said that was in violation of his probation. Hardin said his probation officer told him he could leave the state but only for work.  

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