Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wisconsin Suspends Funeral Home Cremations

State regulators have suspended the crematory license of a Wisconsin funeral home chain.

The Department of Regulation and Licensing said it ordered the 25-day suspension for Church and Chapel Funeral Services cremations in Brookfield. Regulators said the funeral home chain cremated 272 human remains from January through April while its license was expired.

Owner Ted Larsen said missing the license renewal date was an "embarrassing oversight." Larsen says cremations were done by a local cemetery during the suspension period, which expires Tuesday. He said his company never received a renewal notice from the state.

Licensing department spokesman David Carlson said that even if that was the case, the company is responsible for knowing when its license needs to be renewed.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Woman's Body Left in Hearse for 9 Days

Police and the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service are investigating why a Carrboro woman's body was left in a hearse for nine days.

Multiple media outlets reported Wednesday that police found the body of Linda Walton last week after they were asked to investigate a foul odor in Graham. Police found her body in a hearse parked under a tree.

The 37-year-old Walton died in early August in her apartment in Carrboro and her corpse was picked up by David B. Lawson Mortuary.

Police had called Lawson after failing to find Walton's next of kin. Lawson has been a licensed funeral director for more than 30 years and is part of a rotation of funeral homes used by police. He would not talk about the case early Wednesday.

The funeral service's disciplinary committee meets next week to discuss the complaint.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Trend in Funeral Choices Prompts Website Launch

Throughout the United States, a trend toward cremation -- and away from traditional burials -- is steadily emerging, as indicated in the latest report issued by the Cremation Association of North America. The findings state that more people have been choosing cremation instead of burials, and this shift in tradition is only growing more substantial. Nationally, 28 percent of those who died in 2002 chose cremation, a figure that rose to just over 35 percent in 2007. More significantly, however, the number is projected to reach 39 percent in 2010 and then spike to nearly 59 percent in 2025.

Recognizing the growing need to make cremation easier and more affordable is All Ohio Cremation & Burial Society, Inc. The organization, which strives to ease the burden of arranging simple cremation and burial services, has launched a brand-new website: allohiocremation.com. Whether planning arrangements for themselves or a loved one, consumers can conveniently use this online tool to make important decisions, as well as book cremations and burials, within the state of Ohio. The site also provides related services and products.

"The ability to arrange a cremation from the comfort of one's own home has enabled us to serve families statewide, from our Cleveland headquarters," says Patrick Mahoney, Sr., a Cleveland-based funeral director and All Ohio Cremation & Burial Society's founder. "All it takes is a computer and a few free minutes to secure end-of-life arrangements, thanks to the Society's secure, private and cost-effective online process."

According to Mahoney, there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing cremation over burials. However, he's seeing more families choosing cremation for various reasons -- including cost. Today, a simple cremation starts at $1,100, but it's always been less expensive than traditional burial.

"Money is a big factor in choosing cremation, but research indicates that people find it simpler, less emotional, more convenient and 'earth-friendly.' Cremations take up less land. The trend toward more cremations has inspired us to serve those who are arranging cremations for themselves or another person. Providing a website that's packed with important information and services is our newest offering. Nowadays, consumers expect everything to be online -- cremation and burial options and products are no exception."


Man Steals Funds Raised To Cover Boy's Funeral Cost

Two days ago Glendale, CA man was arrested for allegedly stealing a jar that was set in a store to raise funds to cover the funeral cost of a six year old boy.

The community is shocked on the nature of the crime. The man says he did not know the money was being raise to cover a young boy's funeral cost. He says he spent the money on food and related expenses.

Glendale Sgt. Tom Lorenz tells AP that Arthur Madoyan, 25, was arrested on Tuesday and still remains in jail. According to the policeman the owners of El Mexicano Meat Market Emilia and Ramon Parra "set out a donation jar last week to help a Los Angeles family that couldn't afford $1,800 in funeral costs for Eduardo Morales-Pena, who died last week."

The boy died who was battling a rare type of leukemia died on August 11 while waiting for a bone-marrow match. Veronica Rocha, reporting for the Glendale News-Press, writes that at the time of the theft the donation jar contained 300 dollars. After the theft the owners of the store shared with the police the video surveillance footage, which led to getting the suspect under custody.

The police Sgt. tells the newspaper that the department helped to raise 500 dollars toward covering Eduardo Morales-Pena's funeral cost.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cremated Remains Left Behind at Funeral Director's Rented Home

ST. PETERSBURG, FL — The owners of a St. Petersburg rental home opened the door to an outbuilding recently and made an eerie discovery:

A previous tenant had left behind more than 40 plastic bags, each of which contained ashes. Each bag had a label with a name and what appeared to be a Social Security number.

Considering that the tenant was Lisa Speights, the former director of a controversial funeral home, it didn't take long for the meaning to sink in.

The bags contained cremated human remains.

"All they did was unlock an outbuilding and ooooh what's this? " said Andra Dreyfus, the landlord's attorney. "We were totally shocked."

It's the latest weird twist in the story of Speights, whose Morning Glory Funeral Chapel closed last year after several complaints, including two clients who said they discovered maggots on the bodies of their loved ones.

Speights this week said that the remains were unclaimed and that she has been working to find family members, even though she surrendered her funeral director and embalmer license in June and promised not to reapply for another five years.

"Some of these families owed balances and did not want to pay, although all services were performed and I would have released the remains anyway," Speights wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times.

Speights has worked in the funeral home industry for more than a decade and said in a 2006 Times article that she handles bodies with special care, out of respect for the families.

Speights used to work at the Morning Glory Funeral Chapel in Tampa with a man named Harold Jones. But the state issued a cease-and-desist order against Jones, who was not licensed as a funeral home director but had transported several bodies and conducted other work for the home, according to state records. In 2006 state regulators said the funeral home was "failing to maintain a properly functioning refrigeration unit for storage of dead bodies."

That same year, Speights opened the Morning Glory Funeral Chapel in St. Petersburg. That funeral home gained notoriety when two families claimed they found maggots crawling on their dead relatives, one during services, one during a viewing.

Citing those "shocking and appalling" complaints, the state's Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services last year ordered the funeral home to stop embalming or storing bodies at its 3301 Fifth Ave. S location.

The funeral home closed later last year.

By January of this year, Speights was living in a rented house at 2741 Fourth Ave. N when a fire broke out, forcing her to move out.

The homeowner, Betty Bleckley, has been refurbishing the house since then, said Dreyfus, her attorney. As part of that process, family members about a month ago opened an outbuilding behind the house and discovered some boxes containing the plastic bags of remains.

"We have no idea why she did this," Dreyfus said. "We were totally shocked."

Dreyfus called the St. Petersburg Police Department, which is now holding the remains, awaiting the outcome of a new state investigation.

Speights, however, has an explanation. She said people who would come to Morning Glory sometimes did not claim the remains of their loved ones.

"People don't claim them because they don't want them in their homes and don't want to spend the money to inter," Speights said in an e-mail.

"Legally, I can dispose of them within 180 days. All of these remains are at least two years old, without being claimed. However, I was storing them just in case a family member contacted me," Speights said.

Other funeral home officials confirmed that families do in some cases fail to claim cremated remains and that after a period of time, they can be scattered in the Gulf of Mexico.

Speights would not release the names of the people whose remains were left behind, and neither would police nor state regulators.

"Families will be notified so we can verify their wishes for handling of the cremains," said Nina Banister, spokeswoman for the state's chief financial officer, whose office includes funeral home inspectors.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Monks Battle Funeral Industry Regulators to Sell Caskets

When St. Joseph Abbey decided to open a woodshop on All Saints Day 2007 to sell handcrafted caskets to the public, the hope was that the sales would pay for the medical and educational needs of 36 Benedictine monks.

The board regulating Louisiana's embalmers and funeral directors, though, would have none of it. Before a single casket was sold, it mailed the monks a cease-and-desist letter, citing a state statute that carried thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in prison for anyone selling funeral boxes without first paying the fees and meeting the requirements necessary to get a license from them.

On Thursday, the 121-year-old abbey fired back with a document of its own: a lawsuit asking a federal judge to strike that law down.

"We need the income ... from the caskets to survive," said Abbot Justin Brown, the head of the abbey, during a news conference outside U.S. District Court in New Orleans, where the suit was filed. Mark Coudrain, the woodshop's director, said, "We just want to do our work without the threat of prison time."

Monks at St. Joseph Abbey, which is near Covington, began making simple wooden caskets and burying their dead brothers in them decades ago. Lay people became interested in buying them from the Benedictines after the funerals of Bishop Stanley Ott of Baton Rouge in November 1992 and Bishop Warren Boudreaux of Houma-Thibodeaux in 1997, both of whom were buried in Abbey-crafted coffins.

Ten years after Boudreaux's funeral, Coudrain, a trained woodworker, became a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He quit a career as president and general manager of WLAE-TV and built St. Joseph's Woodworks, which crafted simple cypress caskets priced at $1,500 for monk's funerals or $2,000 for the general public, and housed them free of charge.

When purchased from a traditional funeral home caskets cost more in general. According to market data, in 2007, casket prices nationwide averaged $2,255 and could climb to more than $10,000. It is lucrative business for the 400 licensed establishments in Louisiana, which handle about 40,000 funerals a year and typically charge to store the coffins until customers need them.

Complaints about the monks' operation surfaced. The cease-and-desist order from the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors was followed by a formal complaint to the board from Mothe Funeral Home, which argued that the Abbey's "illegal third-party casket sales place funeral homes in an unfavorable position with families."

According to Louisiana law, no one at the abbey can sell any "receptacles ... where human remains are ... placed for disposition" without paying an application fee, taking classes, passing an exam and serving an apprenticeship that is a "primary form of employment" to earn a funeral director's license.

The monks would then need to redesign the Abbey into a traditional funeral parlor equipped with embalming equipment and staffed by embalmers licensed by the state regulatory board, whose members are Paul "Wes" Castille, Oscar Rollins, Belva Pichon, Craig Gill, Andrew Hayes, Wall McKneely, Margaret Shehee, Kelly Rush Williams and Louis Charbonnet, all named as defendants in the monks' suit.

Brown said satisfying their standards is not feasible. The abbey does not receive money from the Catholic church. For income, it relies on the sales of trees from a forest on the property, plus items the monks craft by hand. The Abbey has so far defied the regulators' warning, sold about 50 caskets and petitioned state legislators for help.

A state representative in 2008 introduced a bill amending the law to permit non-licensed funeral directors to sell caskets. This spring, a state senator attempted to sponsor a bill that would exempt the monks from the licensing requirement. Both measures were defeated after funeral directors and industry lobbyists opposed it.

The Institute for Justice in Virginia then took up the monks' cause and prepared a lawsuit, arguing that the state law violates the 14th Amendment clauses of due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection.

Jeffrey Rowes, the group's senior attorney, said, "The state is trying to require them to abandon their calling as Benedictine monks. ... They want to sell wood boxes, not become funeral directors."

Michael Rasch, the board's Metairie-based attorney, countered, "The board does not create the law. The state Legislature does. Each board member swears to enforce the law, and that's what they are doing." He declined further comment, saying he preferred to argue the matter "in court, not through the press."

The suit, which does not seek financial compensation, alleges that the funeral-director and funeral-establishment licensing laws are meant to establish and preserve a "cartel for the sale of caskets within Louisiana."

All but one of the members of the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is a licensed funeral home director and embalmer, a situation the suit portrays as "anti-competitive," especially since "a casket is not required for burial in any state in the country ... (and) does not serve any public health and safety purpose."

"It is outrageous," Rowes said. "This cannot be the state of the law for a country that so values economic freedom."

Rowes believes in the suit's chances for success but thinks the U.S. Supreme Court will have to settle the matter for good. Two federal courts of appeal covering different parts of the country have ruled that governments cannot enrich private interests by restricting competition. A third one disagreed, though, determining that legislatures were free to favor certain groups economically.

Members of St. Joseph Abbey on Thursday said something much more crucial is at stake for them.

"Right now I'm not being able to follow my vocation," Coudrain said.


Family of Gang Leader Sues Over Funeral Footage

The family of notorious Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort has sued the Public Broadcasting Service and the local anti-violence group CeaseFire on Wednesday, alleging that a film crew taped a funeral for Fort's mother this year without permission.

During the May 13 funeral, the crew took unauthorized footage of Fort's mother, Annie Gibson Bacon, as she lay in an open casket, according to the lawsuit filed by Bacon's daughter and grandson in Cook County Circuit Court.

Elnora Luten and Naji Mustaafa Fort also allege that the crews, who were helped by CeaseFire, captured images of them grieving at the funeral. "The apparent motivation for the videotaping of the funeral was the relationship between Annie Gibson Bacon and her son, Jeff Fort," according to the lawsuit.

Fort, the imprisoned former leader of the El Rukngang, is not named as a party to the suit. Fort is in prison for separate convictions for murder and conspiring with the Libyan government to commit terrorist acts in the United States.

Representatives for PBS and its subsidiary "Frontline," which is also named in the suit, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

But Ameena Matthews, who works for CeaseFire and is also Fort's daughter and Bacon's granddaughter, called the suit "deliriously foolish."

"CeaseFire never authorized anyone to film at the funeral," Matthews said.

Frontline is currently working on a documentary involving CeaseFire called "The Interrupters," which is about a group of men and women in Chicago who are working to end violence, according to the film's web site. The site says that "Hoop Dreams" director Steve James and "There Are No Children Here" author Alex Kotlowitz are also on the project.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens Dies in Plane Crash

JUNEAU, Alaska – A plane carrying former Sen. Ted Stevens and eight others crashed in remote southwest Alaska, killing the longtime Republican lawmaker and four other people, authorities said Tuesday.

Ex-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe was also believed to be aboard, but it was unclear whether he was among the dead.

Stevens' family has been notified that the 86-year-old was among those killed in the crash Monday night, family spokesman Mitch Rose told The Associated Press.

Rescuers arrived on helicopter early Tuesday and were giving medical care to survivors, Alaska National Guard spokesman Maj. Guy Hayes said. He offered no additional details, except that there were potential fatalities.

Alaska officials reported that nine people were aboard the aircraft and that "it appears that there are five fatalities," NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz told The Associated Press in Washington.

Lopatkiewicz said the NTSB is sending a team to the crash site outside Dillingham, located in northern Bristol Bay about 325 miles southwest of Anchorage. The aircraft is a DeHavilland DHC-3T registered to Anchorage-based GCI.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane took off at 2 p.m. Monday from a GCI corporate site on Lake Nerka, heading to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik. He didn't know if that was the final destination or a refueling stop.

The GCI lodge is made of logs and sits on a lake, and photos show a stately main lodge room with a large imposing stone fireplace, a leather sofa and a mounted caribou head on the wall.

Fergus said the plane was flying by visual flight rules, and was not required to file a flight plan.

Stevens and O'Keefe are fishing buddies and the former senator had been planning a fishing trip near Dillingham, friend William Canfield said. The flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather.

Hayes said the Guard was called to the area about 20 miles north of Dillingham around 7 p.m. Monday after a passing aircraft saw the downed plane. But severe weather has hampered search and rescue efforts.

The National Weather Service reported rain and fog, with low clouds and limited visibility early Tuesday. Conditions ranged from visibility of about 10 miles reported at Dillingham shortly before 7 p.m. Monday to 3 miles, with rain and fog later.

At least three crash victims were being airlifted to Anchorage, Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks Rupp said. She said volunteers hiked into the crash site Monday night and provided medical aid until rescuers arrived.

Lawmakers, officials in both national parties and residents in Alaska were awaiting news of Stevens' fate.

The moderate Republican was appointed to the Senate in 1968 and served longer than any other Republican in history. He was beloved as a tireless advocate for Alaska's economic interests.

The White House said Obama administration officials were closely watching news out of Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked Alaskans to join her in prayer for all those aboard the aircraft and their families, as did Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. He called the plane crash tragic.

Begich's father, Nick Begich, who was Alaska's only congressman in 1972, was killed when his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana.

Stevens was one of two survivors in a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others. He remarried several years after the crash — he and his second wife, Catherine, have a daughter, Lily.

Over the years, Stevens directed billions of dollars to Alaska.

But one of his projects — infamously known as the "Bridge to Nowhere" — became a symbol of pork-barrel spending in Congress and a target of taxpayer groups who challenged a $450 million appropriation for bridge construction in Ketchikan.

Stevens' standing in Alaska was toppled by corruption allegations and a federal trial in 2008. He was convicted of all seven counts — and narrowly lost his Senate seat to Begich in the election the following week.

But five months after the election, Attorney General Eric Holder sought to dismiss the indictment against Stevens and not proceed with a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct by federal prosecutors.

O'Keefe, 54, was NASA administrator for three tumultuous years. He was deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget when President George W. Bush asked him in late 2001 to head NASA and help bring soaring space station costs under control.

But budget-cutting became secondary when the shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry in 2003.

O'Keefe's most controversial action at NASA was when he decided to cancel one last repair mission by astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope. He said the mission was too risky. His successor overturned the decision. The Hubble mission was carried out last year.

O'Keefe left NASA in 2005 to become chancellor of Louisiana State University. He is now the CEO of defense contractor EADS North America and oversees the bid for the hotly contested Air Force refueling jet contract.

The company said O'Keefe was a passenger on the plane. The company said it had no further information about O'Keefe's status.

The contract competition, which pits EADS against rival plane maker Boeing Co., is for a piece of what could eventually be $100 billion worth of work replacing the military's fleet of aging tankers.


Monday, August 9, 2010

FuneralResources.com Selects Entrustet as Preferred Provider

Entrustet a Preferred Provider for Digital Estate Planning

FuneralResources.com, the nation’s leading family-focused online Resource Center for funeral planning and preplanning, announced today they will be selecting Entrustet as a Preferred Provider for their Digital Estate Planning services.

Entrustet’s Account Guardian is a free service that allows consumers to securely list all of their digital assets. Digital assets include any accounts which are currently being accessed through the Internet, as well as computer files. By storing this digital information in a safe and secure place such as what Entrustet offers, this provides people and families with the option of transferring or deleting this information in the event someone passes.

To find our more information about this partnership, simply visit FuneralResources.com and click on their “Funeral Technology tab, and then click on the drop-down link entitled “Digital Estate Planning Services”.

Hill points out that; “Today, when a family or Funeral Director visits FuneralResources.com, our Resource Center is filled with helpful articles, brief educational videos, grief counseling and support, common funeral planning merchandise and services, as well as just about every new and innovative funeral technology tool, such as Entrustet.”

Hill’s goal with FuneralResources.com is to help raise awareness about any helpful tools that can help make such a difficult situation a little easier. Another goal is to provide quick and easy access to resources such as articles, free How-To Guides, and the constantly evolving and growing number of useful tools and technologies that most families and Funeral Directors are commonly searching for. Given the growth of the Internet, Social Networking, and more, having a place to store your Digital Estate Planning Assets will inevitably continue to grow, becoming a larger part of Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning process in the years ahead.

About Entrustet: Entrustet is a free online service that allows you to securely list all of your digital assets, which are online accounts and files on your computer, and decide if you’d like them transferred to heirs or deleted when you pass away. Through its free Account Guardian service, individuals protect their digital assets by deleting them or designating heirs to oversee their personal information after their death. Users can also choose to delete private files and accounts by using the Account Incinerator. Other services include the Lawyer Directory for lawyer referrals and the Corporate Partner Program in which companies can protect their users’ last wishes.

For additional information, please contact Christopher P. Hill at (703) 917-8501, or info@funeralresources.com.

Kansas City Funeral Homes Help Pre Need Customers of Defunct Independence Company

Hundreds of area residents who purchased prearranged services from a now-defunct Independence funeral home have since sought out new funeral plans from two local companies.

Representatives of Charter Funerals and Speaks Family Legacy Chapels said hundreds of Mount Washington Forever clients had brought in paperwork documenting their transactions with Mount Washington, which ceased operations in July.

A substantial number have agreed to new contracts, taking advantage of credits offered by the companies.

What remains unclear is the fate of payments made on contracts to National Prearranged Services Inc., a St. Louis area company that figures in federal litigation alleging fraud in as many as 19 states.

The Missouri attorney general’s office reported last week that 284 residents had registered complaints regarding Mount Washington Forever, which the office said was controlled by National Prearranged. However, the attorney general has offered no hint of what action it might take to seek relief for those holding worthless funeral contracts.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation,” a spokeswoman said last week.

Also watching is Carla Lark Carpenter of Independence. She and her husband, Richard, had been making payments for about two years on roughly $2,200 worth of cremation services purchased through Mount Washington Forever.

But the attorney general’s office said that since May 2008, National Prearranged did not put such payments in a trust. Consequently, payments made since then directly to Mount Washington or related companies were not forwarded to the Texas receiver that is overseeing National Prearranged’s liquidation.

Late last month, Carpenter received paperwork from Texas that documented payments by the Carpenters. But Carpenter said not all the couple’s payments were reflected in the documents.

Carpenter and others may not receive credit for payments made since 2008.

“It’s sad that somebody would do this to people trying to take care of themselves and their families,” Carpenter said.

Both the Speaks and Charter companies said they would continue, in the near term, to offer credits on money invested in Mount Washington Forever funeral service contracts.

“This is such a huge failure that it has tainted things for everyone in the industry,” said Duke Radovich, president of Charter Funerals.

He said Charter was asked by Mount Washington Cemetery’s lenders to manage the facility for now.

“This situation is completely unprecedented, especially on this scale, and there is no road map or template on how to respond,” said Brad Speaks, president of the Speaks Family Legacy Chapels.

“We are part of the community, and we felt we should be part of the solution.”

About 250 individuals have brought Mount Washington paperwork to the Speaks homes, whose representatives have sat down with about 50 people.

Meanwhile, “hundreds” of callers have brought paperwork to Charter, Radovich said.

Charter is offering anywhere from 50 to 80 percent discount credits on whatever families might have paid into Mount Washington funeral services, if they purchase another pre-need arrangement or contract, Radovich said.

If there is an immediate death, he added, there is a 100 percent discount credit.

Speaks, meanwhile, is offering a “substantial credit for funeral or cremation services, in some cases more than the families actually paid in.”

Those who purchased Mount Washington property contracts for mausoleum spaces, niches or plots need to continue making payments, said Radovich.

“We will be handling that money right now,” he said.

Both companies said that people entering into a new pre-need arrangement or contract are not precluded from participating in future litigation against National Prearranged Services.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Auction Attracts Bargain Hunters to Funeral Home

Families once gathered in the great hall of the Cataldo Funeral Home in Somerville, MA to say goodbye to their dead.

Yesterday, hundreds sat amid its cloth-covered walls to bid on the legacy of the historic funeral home.

As the auctioneers picked up the pace in the hall, buyers raised numbered strips of paper to put offers on antiques and vintage items that once belonged to Lillian Cataldo, one of the first women in the state to run a funeral home, and her husband, Frank.

More than 1,500 items from the house where the Cataldos raised their son and served grieving families were up for bid, including red velvet-covered kneeling chairs, a blue baby jumper, casket stands, and crystal chandeliers.

The auction made roughly $30,000 in sales, according to Klia Ververidis, a partner at Crown Auctions in Medford hired by the family three weeks ago to sell the items.

The lowest-bid item, a table lamp, went for $1; the highest was a pair of chandeliers at $1,800.

Among other items that brought in good prices were a box of Cadillac parts from the 1920s that sold for $700 and a large religious oil painting that got $795.

Buyers appreciated the bargains, as well as the unusual ambience of the Victorian funeral home.

“This doesn’t happen every day,’’ said Connie Ferreira, a 44-year-old college administrator from Melrose.

The funeral home on Broadway was the site of Fisher College in the 1920s. The Cataldos bought it in the 1950s.

Lillian Cataldo used to host local women there to discuss the stock market and make purchases, said Ververidis.

Lillian and Frank, who had moved their business from the North End, ran the funeral home on the two bottom floors and lived on the top two floors with their son, John.

The enormous Victorian house has a grand entranceway, a stately stairway, and the great hall, whose sliding walls could create enough room to host six to seven wakes at one time, said Ververidis.

Cataldo Funeral Home was on Broadway for more than a half a century, gaining a reputation for its reasonable prices and quality service, Ververidis said.

“They took care of their neighbors as neighbors,’’ she said.

Frank died in 1970 and Lillian in 1991. Six years ago, their son, John, who had taken over the business, also died. The house has not functioned as a funeral home for the past 15 years, said Ververdis.

The remaining family members — a grandson, granddaughter and great-granddaughter — plan to preserve the property and wanted to sell the items before work begins, Ververdis said.

Henry Cataldo, a grandson, greeted the auction with mixed emotions. He remembered growing up as a normal experience and said he is heartened that many will enjoy the items his parents left behind.

Yesterday, buyers came for the thrill of the bargain. Teachers, antiques dealers, and a priest were among the more than 250 people who stopped by to check it out.

Kevin Johnson, a 42-year-old real estate developer from Arlington, spent more than $400 on a small sturdy Victorian lamp with silk shade, a huge mirror, oak tables, and an Italian pottery set.

“It’s unfortunate that it has to go,’’ said Johnson, “but it has to go somewhere.’’


Figures Show More Dying Alone

More people are dying alone and lonely each year, new figures have suggested.

Councils across England and Wales spent £1.56 million last year providing about 2,200 public health funerals, up from £1.46 million the previous year, according the Local Government Association.

The survey, based on 208 council responses, shows one authority spent £368,682 fulfilling its duty on 258 burials.

David Rogers, of the LGA, said: "These tragic figures speak for themselves. People, mostly elderly, are dying around us with no family or friends nearby to care for them.

"It is a sad fact that there are thousands of people across the country with no family or friends to arrange, attend or pay for their funeral. Nobody should find themselves in that position.

"Our aging population is growing rapidly and so is the worrying picture of isolation and loneliness across the country.

"Though little known, providing a funeral with the respect and dignity that people deserve is just one of the services that people in need can rely on their council for."

Numbers of public health funerals differ greatly between different types of councils.

On average there are 12 a year in English single tier authorities - London boroughs, metropolitan and unitary councils - and three in districts and Welsh authorities.

Individual funeral costs varied from about £300 to £3,000, the average being £959, with average annual expense ranging from £2,582 for Welsh authorities to £13,750 in London boroughs.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Georgia Couple Charged with Breach of Trust

A Georgia couple who have managed funeral homes in Elbert County, Ga., and Calhoun Falls, S.C., have been charged with breach of trust with fraudulent intent in South Carolina.

Calhoun Falls Police Chief Mike Alewine said Devin and Whitney Richert are charged with 13 counts each of breach of trust with fraudulent intent. Devin Richert also has been charged with three counts of forgery, Alewine said.

Devin Richert, 39, and Whitney Richert, 35, live in Elberton, Ga., according to a report from Independent Mail coverage partner WSPA New Channel 7.

The two were arrested July 30 in South Carolina and were released from custody on bond the same day, Alewine said.

The two have been accused of making false contracts and improperly keeping some of the resulting revenue, Alewine said. The illegal activities are believed to have taken place between January 2005 and June 2008, the chief said.

The South Carolina arrests are related to activities that happened while the Richerts managed Calhoun Falls Funeral Home, which they have not managed since June 2008, Alewine said.

The South Carolina case will now go before a grand jury, likely in late September or early October, the chief said.

The Richerts also were the managers of Forest Hill Cemetery and Hicks Funeral Home in Elbert County, Ga., when some customers of the cemetery became victims of theft, according to authorities.

In early August 2009 the owners of Southern Funeral Association filed a complaint with the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office. The complaint dealt with thefts related to sale of burial plots at Forest Hill Cemetery on Washington Highway, according to the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Barry Haston said at the time that the thefts dated back as far as 2005. Elbert County investigators found that individuals who purchased burial plots were asked to make out checks in such a way that money was deposited into accounts other than the one belonging to the cemetery owners.

The Richerts were indicted in Georgia in 2009, but it was determined that something was wrong with those indictments, according to the clerk of court’s office in Elbert County.

New indictments were handed up Thursday, according to the clerk’s office. Devin and Whitney Richert each has now been indicted on 33 counts of theft by taking, and Whitney Richert also has been indicted on one count of forgery and one count of notary public violation.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

$1.2 Million Mortuary Insurance Scam

A former Los Angeles mortuary employee has been convicted of defrauding insurers out of $1.2 million by faking several deaths, and staging at least one phony funeral.

Prosecutors say 67-year-old Jean Crump and three accomplices faked death certificates, took out bogus insurance policies, and in at least one case purchased a burial plot, buried an empty casket and staged a funeral.

The U.S. attorney's office says that when insurers investigated, Crump and her cohorts exhumed the coffin, filled it with a mannequin and cow parts and cremated it to try to cover their tracks.

Authorities said Monday that Crump was found guilty of two counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud.

Her accomplices have pleaded guilty in the scam. Crump is to be sentenced Nov. 29.

The mortuary is since defunct.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Man Diagnosed with Cancer Hosts own Funeral

Pete Peterson has made a lot of friends in his 67 years.

Most he met in the veterans clubs and neighborhood bars of Stanhope and Netcong, NJ — places where good-time buddies buy each other rounds of Budweiser long-necks under the electric glow of neon and beer signs.

So it was fitting that Pete chose the Stanhope American Legion to say good-bye to about 135 of his buddies and family members.

"He’s just going, and he ain’t comin’ back," said his friend Archie White, nodding as he explained the purpose of Saturday’s gathering.

Pete, a retired brick-layer, learned June 17 that he has lung cancer and a tumor behind his esophagus. He has a month left, maybe two.

Until he decided to host his own funeral, Pete had lived a fairly ordinary life — even if there was some wreckage along the way. There was the car accident, a drunken driving arrest here and there, and a failed marriage.

On Saturday, none of that mattered.

His younger sisters, Donna and Barbara, greeted the parade of well-wishers as Pete, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, moved among the guests, dragging his oxygen canister along behind him.

He looked at old pictures and posed for new ones.

There were hugs and kisses everywhere, and just a few tear-soaked tissues.

"Why wait until I’m dead to have one?" asked Pete, his gray eyebrows merging over a crackled, whiskered face. He was tensing for an argument when asked about the "funeral." He never got that argument, which is fine, because this is how Pete was determined to remember his friends.

"I know they won’t come to see me when it gets close to the end. I wouldn’t go to see them either," he said. "I didn’t go to see my best friend, Bobby, in those last days before he died two years ago.

"People don’t want to see their friends like that, at those last days. They don’t want to remember them like that. I’m still in pretty good shape, so that’s how I want it to go."

Pete said he didn’t really feel sick until a few weeks before he saw the doctor and got the worst news anyone can hear: He was dying and there wasn’t much use trying to do anything about it.

pete-peterson.jpgTheodore "Pete" Peterson is tossing a goodbye party. He's got a couple of weeks left to live, and he doesn't want his buddies saying goodbye to him while he's stretched out in a coffin. So, he's having one last bash to say goodbye to them while he can still talk. His party was in Stanhope at the Stanhope American Legion on Saturday July 31, 2010.

Soon, his thoughts turned to the party. The planning and cooking fell to his daughter, Jamie. Pete lives with her in the Cranberry Lake section of Byram Township, and that’s where he plans spend his final moments.

"A lot of people don’t make it to 67. It’s not a bad age to go," Pete said, rubbing his left forearm and a now-fading Indian-head tattoo that was etched while he did a U.S. Army tour in Germany in 1961. "I did a lot of hunting, fishing, and drinking — when I wasn’t laying brick."

Less than two hours into the party Saturday, Pete retired to the bar to share a drink with his ex-wife, Shirley. Pete likes to tell the story of how he gave Shirley away to "husband number two" in 1992.

The old couple looked at a pair of empty cups at one point, pondering where the years had gone.

Shirley and Pete had just finished a vodka.

For most of his life, Pete had been a beer man. As he tells it, "lots of beer." He was never picky about the brand because just about everything went down well with his cigarettes. Now, though, Pete must face the cancer and its inevitable outcome without the cigarettes or beer. They unsettle his stomach.

So Pete is now a "vodka man," and he proved just that on Saturday.

Toward the end of the party, he was asked if he would change anything about his life. Pete paused, but only for a moment. His head popped up and the old bricklayer looked directly into the eyes of the man on the barstool next to him.

"I might had changed how it ends. Something quicker."

Ex-LA Mortuary Worker Guilty of Faking Funerals

A former Los Angeles mortuary employee has been convicted of defrauding insurers by staging a fake funeral and attempting to cover it up by cremating a mannequin and cow parts she placed in the casket.

The U.S. attorney's office said Monday that 67-year-old Jean Crump was found guilty of two counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud.

Prosecutors say she and three accomplices took out bogus death certificates, purchased a burial plot, buried an empty casket and staged a funeral, then billed $1.2 million to insurance companies.

They say that when insurers investigated, Crump and her cohorts exhumed the coffin, filled it with a mannequin and cow parts and cremated it.


Her accomplices have pleaded guilty in the scam. Crump is to be sentenced Nov. 29.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Funeral Home Insists Overseas Relatives be Notified

Cremation plans go awry...

Eleanore Moderski outlived everyone in her family - even her daughter - and when she passed away, someone had to carry out her pre-planned funeral arrangements.

That fell to Rita McDonald, a longtime friend who had been entrusted to make decisions on Moderski's behalf and to carry out the arrangements with Church and Chapel Funeral Home. But because the two were not related, problems quickly arose regarding Moderski's wishes to be cremated.

First, McDonald had to track down Moderski's relatives because under the law a person's body becomes the legal property of the next of kin.

At the time, McDonald had only met one of Moderski's nephews, Joseph Moderski, who was willing to sign the necessary paperwork. Joseph Moderski gave McDonald and the funeral home contact information for his two sisters and another one of Moderski's nieces living in Florida. They, too, were willing to sign.

Nevertheless, McDonald said employees at the funeral home told her there were known relatives living in Poland that needed to sign as well, and until they had those signatures, they would be uncomfortable cremating Moderski's remains.

That created a frustrating delay.

"All it takes is a whisper that there's a family member here or there," said Ted Larsen, owner of Church and Chapel. "What happens if a long-lost son surfaces in 10 years?"

The dispute over Moderski's wishes played out after her death in 2005.

Though a 2008 state law change makes it easier for non-relatives to carry out someone's wishes, with a simple notarized document, funeral directors say confusion remains - underlining the need to put clear, specific plans in writing before you die.

At the core of the confusion: You can grant power- of-attorney to a person to make decisions on your behalf, but that ends with your death, according to funeral directors.

"Funeral homes have really been in a rock and a hard place on this issue," said Mark Krause, president of Krause Funeral Homes, who eventually cremated Moderski's remains.

Sequence of events

McDonald, a childhood friend of Eleanore Moderski's daughter, Audrey, took power of attorney - the legal power to act on someone else's behalf - for both Eleanore and Audrey, when Audrey's health started to go. Audrey Moderski died in April 2003.

That's when McDonald transferred Eleanore Moderski's pre-planning arrangements and funds from Max A. Sass & Sons Funeral Home to Church and Chapel Funeral Home, where Moderski felt more comfortable. At the pre-planning meeting with Church and Chapel, McDonald signed a contract - on Moderski's behalf - that included cremation, a newspaper notice and prayer cards for a memorial service.

The contract McDonald signed was the same type of agreement Public Investigator wrote about last month, in a case where 91-year-old Julia Lukasik pre-planned her funeral and was later told by Church and Chapel that the contract couldn't be honored in its entirety.

According to McDonald, no one at Church and Chapel mentioned that power of attorney would stop when Eleanore died, nor did they mention signatures of all next of kin would be required.

When Moderski died on a Monday in January 2005, McDonald was out of town. Church and Chapel picked up Moderski's remains and on Tuesday, McDonald worked out the details of the death notice over the phone.

Confusion over cremation

In the next week, several calls back and forth left McDonald confused over cremation policies and feeling helpless as her friend's body was stored at the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office.

Church and Chapel stood by their assertion, McDonald said, that Moderski had overseas relatives who needed to sign off on the plans.

According to Joseph Moderski, his aunt and all her sisters were born and lived most their lives in Milwaukee - relatives from Poland were a mystery to both McDonald and him.

"(Church and Chapel) had no right, they had absolutely no right not to fulfill their part of the contract," McDonald said. "And then to come up with this cockamamie story about relatives in Poland."

More than a week after Moderski's death, McDonald carried out the memorial service at the Clement Manor Chapel, where she had lived - with no death notice, no memorial prayer cards and no remains.

After the service, McDonald contacted Krause Funeral Home to see if they could take care of cremating Moderski. Within two days, the signatures of the known next of kin - those provided by McDonald - were secured and cremation was complete.

Larsen said Moderski's case came to them before they expanded their Brookfield location to include refrigeration units and their own crematory. At the time, they were using an outside crematory vendor, which explains why Moderski's remains had to be stored at the medical examiner's office.

It has always been practice for a funeral director to make a reasonable effort to find the next of kin and obtain signatures authorizing the cremation of their family member, said James Olson, president of Lippert-Olson Funeral Home in Sheboygan and member of the National Funeral Directors Association.

However, after three days since the time of death, the funeral director has the legal right to do what they see fit, Olson said.

Nevertheless, many homes take a cautious approach.

That makes getting the copy of your wishes notarized even more important. On that form, individuals can indicate the people, in order, they want to be responsible for making decisions regarding deposition of their body.

Larsen said his pre-planning agents now use this document with people who have few or no living relatives.

How to prepare your plans

James Olson, president of Lippert-Olson Funeral Home and member of the National Funeral Directors Association, offers these tips when pre-planning a funeral:

Get the proper documentation. When pre-planning, you have the right to list individuals responsible for making decisions regarding disposition of your body on a notarized form. If you've already pre-planned and have few or no living relatives, go back and add this form.

Prearrange your own funeral. Don't leave all funeral decisions up to your loved ones, as emotions can be amplified during the grieving period.

Shop around. Funerals have high costs and homes are obligated to share itemized price lists with all consumers. Make sure you get the services and products you want.

Get information. The National Funeral Directors Association can be reached at (262) 789-1800 and toll-free at 800-228-6332.