dead wrong

How deceitful funeral operators take advantage of mourners

Too often, the death of a loved one hits American families with unexpected pain that compounds their grief—the ever-growing, $35-billion funeral industry has too much room for bad actors working within a system of largely state-by-state regulation. For this investigation, the NYCity News Service examined court documents, analyzed state and federal enforcement actions, and reviewed customer complaints.


  • One set of companies—doing business under several names yet all owned by a single Florida man—has been sanctioned with cease-and-desist orders in multiple states but continues to operate. These companies, linked to Legacy Funeral Services, have been accused of telling customers they need to pay hundreds more than the prices originally quoted.
  • Prosecutors found the Legacy Funeral companies often use search-engine optimization to appear to be local when they are actually located many miles away.
  • Federal regulations that demand price transparency haven’t kept up with the modern marketplace, consumer advocates say. And an influential industry lobbying group has consistently opposed any federal requirement to have funeral homes post all prices online.
  • Over the past decade, undercover Federal Trade Commission investigators posing as customers have found one in four funeral homes across the nation operating in violation of pricing rules.
  • The pandemic brought new opportunities for theft, congressional monitors discovered, citing expanded funeral-expense coverage from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as one avenue for fraud.
  • Cases brought by federal prosecutors in multiple states show pandemic-aid programs also became theft targets for funeral-home staffers.
  • The patchwork system of state regulation of the industry—which experts identify as a potential path for abuse of consumers—has had longtime support from the National Funeral Directors Association, which has consistently opposed increased federal oversight.
  • Even as an increasing number of Americans seek more environmentally friendly alternatives, the legacy of traditional burial and cremation practices continues to poison the soil, water and air.

By Ariana Perez-Castells

By Thomas Hughes

By Zoltan Lucas

By Kristina Abovyan and Eileen Li

“I know the funeral homes prey on grieving family members, but this went way beyond that. It is, in my eye, extortion.”

– From one family’s complaint to the Florida Department of Financial Services

Percent of funeral homes that inspectors found violated federal directives over the last decade

Photo by Brianna Poulos

By Jesús Chapa Malacara

By Jesús Chapa Malacara and Ariana Perez-Castells

By Jesús Chapa Malacara

“They already had possession of my son’s body, so it was not like I could walk out and begin shopping.” 

– Adam Drapczuk III, a New Jeresy father whose 4-year-son died


Percent of Americans cremated after dying in 2021

Photo by Michael Matteo

“Investment in this space needs to be focused on innovative death technology because this is an industry that has not been subject to a disruption for more than a century.”

– Victoria J. Haneman, Creighton University professor

National median cost of a funeral in dollars

Fraud & Theft

Photo by Het Utrechts Archief



Sadie Brown
Jesús Chapa Malacara
Lara Heard
Thomas Hughes
Zoltan Lucas
Ariana Perez-Castells


Joe Caffrey
Sarah Luft
Michael Matteo
Brianna Poulos
Hannah-Kathryn Valles

Faculty Advisers

Dead Wrong was produced by students at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY‘s NYCity News Service under the guidance of Andrew Lehren, Benjamin Lesser, John Mancini, Jere Hester, John Smock and Christine McKenna.