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Report: 3 charged in El Paso mortuary scheme

EL PASO, Texas - Three people have been arrested on dozens of charges in El Paso after authorities found five bodies in various stages of decomposition at a funeral home and evidence of misconduct in the handling of bodies.

Last month, El Paso County Clerk Delia Briones found her unauthorized signature on a burial transit permit she received from a Portland, Oregon, mortuary service, authorities said Thursday. El Paso County sheriff's investigators said the name of Joseph Solis, owner of El Paso-based Mortuary Services Inc., also was on the transit permit.

Solis was arrested a week ago and now is charged with 37 counts of forgery and 35 counts of abuse of a corpse. He remains jailed under $405,000 bond.

Authorities determined his Texas mortuary services license was suspended in March after a complaint that he'd been forging the name and license number of a Houston funeral director to transfer bodies in and out of Texas, cremate or embalm them. He had a contract with several El Paso-area hospitals.

Investigators say Solis created and filed about three dozen death certificates for bodies he had no legal authority to take.

Authorities searching El Paso Mission Funeral Home this week determined Solis was storing bodies there, executed a search warrant and found the decomposing remains of five people, including one fetus. A medical examiner said at least two of the people had died in January or February and four of the bodies, according to death certificates, were supposed to have been cremated.

Funeral home owner Lina Lucia Ruedas, and her son, Antonio Ruedas, were charged Wednesday. She faces five counts each of forgery, tampering with a government record and abuse of a corpse and is being held on $225,000 bond. Her son, held on $75,000 bond, is charged with one count of forgery, one count of tampering with a government record and three counts of abuse of a corpse.

Investigators also found that employees at the funeral home were using forged documents to take bodies across the border to Juarez, Mexico. In addition, they found cremated remains at the funeral home and Solis' firm that dated to 2009.

Death certificates recovered at the funeral home listed Antonio Ruedas as the funeral director and were notarized by him.

An arrest warrant reviewed by the El Paso Times shows Lina Ruedas told investigators the documents were "necessary for the funeral home to complete those documents to expedite the funeral services process." When asked if they were forged, she refused to further cooperate, detectives said.

Authorities said Antonio Ruedas refused to cooperate with the investigation.

The sheriff's department said authorities are trying to find families of the people whose remains have been recovered to ensure a proper burial.