Ohio agency sometimes slow to detect funeral fraud

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Funeral home frauds sometimes go on for years in Ohio, uncovered only after a death leaves family members realizing there has been a swindle.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday that state investigators have helped put three funeral directors in prison over the past year, get two more indicted on felony charges, and laid groundwork for charges in at least one more case. However, the newspaper reports that frauds in some cases went on for more than a decade.

Vanessa Niekamp, executive director of the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, declined to answer questions or discuss any steps to prevent frauds or discover them more quickly. The Dispatch reported that Niekamp said only that she was “unwilling” to talk about how funeral homes and pre-need contracts are inspected or audited.

The frauds usually involve pre-need contracts, with family members finding out after their loved one’s death that money meant to be kept in trust is gone. Violating a pre-need contract is a fourth-degree felony in Ohio.

A Columbus-based consumer group said the state agency needs more funding and more investigators. Alice Faryna, who leads the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Ohio board, said there are only two investigators for 1,100 funeral homes.

“If 10 of them have been using money that was supposed to be put into prepaid contracts over a number of years, that adds up,” Faryna said. “But without adequate funding for inspectors, it’s going to take them forever to find out about it.”

The agency last year disciplined funeral homes and directors 11 times for problems with pre-need contracts, The Dispatch reported.

Directors of two Dayton funeral homes and one in Niles, in northeast Ohio, were sentenced to prison terms over the past year on charges related to misuse of money.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

 

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