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Theft of empty hearse was part of harebrained scheme, police say

Michael Healing thought stealing a hearse from outside a funeral would solve all his problems.

Healing was in trouble with a drug dealer he had ripped off to the tune of $11,000.

When the drug dealer caught up with him, Healing was kidnapped but later released with marching orders to return the stolen money and a stash of drugs he’d also swiped, police say.

In what police described as a harebrained scheme, Healing plotted to trick the dealer into being caught with the stolen hearse.

“He was going to call the dealer and tell him that the stolen money was inside the hearse, which would be parked somewhere. Healing figured the dealer would then steal the hearse,” a police officer said. “Healing was going to tell us that the dealer had stolen the hearse and was driving around in it.”

The plan flopped soon after Healing allegedly stole the empty hearse, which had been parked in front of St. Michael Catholic Church in downtown Buffalo last Wednesday morning.

A funeral director had discovered the theft just as a Mass of Christian Burial for Philip Brown was concluding and mourners were preparing for a trip to a Riverside cemetery. Mr. Brown and his family had no connection with Healing and his associates. A replacement hearse was called in and the funeral resumed.

As for Healing, his story gets even more complicated. The theft of the hearse was preceded by yet another vehicle theft.

The drug dealer, police said, stole the car Healing had been driving when the kidnapping occurred. That car belongs to Healing’s mother and is still missing.

“The dealer kept the mother’s car as collateral for the stolen money and drugs,” the police officer said, asking that his name be withheld because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

After Healing, 28, was freed by the drug dealer and had stolen the hearse, he showed up at the Central District police station in downtown to report his mother’s car had been stolen and that he had been kidnapped.

But before Healing could share the part of his scheme that police could find his kidnapper driving around in the hearse, police had grown suspicious. They already knew a hearse had been stolen and someone blurted out the word “hearse.”

The mention of the word caused Healing to bolt from the station, but he was caught and returned for questioning.

Another break in the case occurred later Wednesday, when North Tonawanda police located the abandoned hearse in their city.

And by late Wednesday night, the case of the stolen hearse had been solved. Healing, who claims to be a Niagara Falls resident, was booked on charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and criminal possession of stolen property.

“He’d gone on a spending spree with the dealer’s money. He was buying tools. He claims to be a contractor,” the police officer said. “We think he also went to the casino.”

Fast forward to Tuesday morning at Buffalo City Court. Healing, detained on $7,000 bail, was brought over from the Erie County Holding Center for a felony hearing in front of Judge Betty Calvo-Torres. When the judge asked where his attorney was, he said he had been unable to get in touch with the lawyer.

Calvo-Torres asked him if he could afford a lawyer.

“Yes, absolutely,” Healing said.

“I really have questions on if he has the ability to retain a lawyer,” Assistant District Attorney Ray Herman said. “His mother and stepfather are here and they have not posted bail for him.”

“Can I represent myself?” Healing asked.

“That’s a really bad idea,” Calvo-Torres said.

“What are the charges against me?” Healing asked.

After being told what the charges were, Healing temporarily agreed to speak with Danielle H. Maichle, the managing attorney at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, who was in the courtroom.

Healing told her he worked as a full-time contractor and Maichle informed the judge that he may not qualify for free legal representation.

Healing again said he wanted to represent himself, but the judge refused and gave him until Friday to get a lawyer.

“I am keeping you from digging a deeper hole,” Calvo-Torres said, explaining that anything he said in court might end up being used against him.

And for now at least, the holding center just might be the safest place for Healing.

Back on the streets, authorities said, he could end up facing the wrath of the drug dealer he ripped off.

But not everyone is angry with Healing.

Gregory Brown, the nephew of the late Philip Brown, said that while everyone was initially shocked when they were informed the hearse had been stolen, the theft provided an unexpected moment of levity.

“We were all mourning and it was very somber and sad,” Gregory Brown said.

“Then the funeral director said, ‘The hearse is gone,’ and in that second we were shocked and we just kind of had to laugh.”