COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Columbus man who is already facing 44 criminal counts out of Lucas County for running an illegal funeral home and multiple counts of abuse of corpse is facing more trouble.
Shawnte Hardin, 41, is the subject of another criminal investigation — this time involving unclaimed remains found inside an Akron church where he was once a pastor.
According to a search warrant, 89 boxes of cremains were found inside the Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church. Some of the boxes dated as far back as 2010.
The investigation into the church began when a woman, who calls herself an urban explorer, came to the church to take pictures of some of Akron's oldest buildings.
The woman told the Ohio Attorney General's Office she noticed kids were going in and out of the building and told them to leave. When she went inside, she said she found what she thought at the time was about "30 to 40" cremains.
On Tuesday, investigators found the 89 cremains. The state believes Hardin committed the crime of abuse of corpse.
10TV spoke to Hardin's attorney who said the cremains were from a former funeral director who allowed Hardin to use the church when he died.
“I think it would be different if he discovered them. When they are given to him, I don't think he probably has a chain of title to them. He was holding them for an acquaintance and didn't think much about that and I'm sure he didn't think they would be there six years later,” said Richard Kerger, Attorney for Shawnte Hardin.
Under Ohio law, there is no requirement for a funeral director to notify anyone about the unclaimed cremains.
"There are no rules in Ohio that state where cremains can be stored. Funeral directors are not required to tell the state if they have cremains," according to Cheryl Grossman, the Executive Director at the Ohio Board Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.
Hardin's attorney said “A lot of families don't come in to pick up the cremains. These cremated cremains were in the church, in a safe, secure and sacred location in the church. Under Ohio law, it’s allowed."
Investigators found the boxes of cremains "placed in white cardboard boxes and plastic bags" and "some of the boxes reflected dates back to 2010."
The name "Tri County cremation service" was on the boxes.
The woman who discovered them told 10TV she placed rosaries and flowers over the boxes of the cremains.
Hardin’s attorney called the case against his client alleging he told people he was a funeral director as malicious prosecution.
Landers: Do you think Shawnte was portraying someone he was not as it pertains to these funerals?
Attorney: If you are going to the issue of was he going to people he was a licensed funeral director? Of course not. Do I think those people are lying? No, they come to Shawnte at a terrible emotional time in their life. Their loved one has just died and they like most of us don't know anything about the funeral business and they assume and expected to hear he was a funeral director. Whatever he said that's the way they interpreted it . They're not lying, they are just confused,” he said.
Under federal law, if a funeral home has unclaimed cremations of a veteran, the funeral home is supposed to call the Department of Veterans Affairs where the remains are supposed to be buried at a veterans cemetery at no cost.
We know of at least one of the remains found at the church was a member of the U.S. Air Force who died in 2020.