Not So Close to Home

Online, the funeral home looked local. Families found it was a far cry from true

Photo by Joe Caffrey

By Ariana Perez-Castells

When their 58-year-old father died unexpectedly in West Virginia from heart failure in 2019, Joshua Seibel and his sister Jessica looked for cremation services they could afford.

The coroner’s office had placed the body with the closest funeral home, which quoted them around $3,000 for a cremation. That was too expensive. They quickly tried to find an alternative.

Seibel, now 36, was living in neighboring Maryland, just getting established as a union elevator constructor and didn’t have a lot to spend. Their father, a retired construction superintendent, also hadn’t left them any money to deal with his sudden death.

Joshua and Jessica’s sister-in-law went online and saw a rival—Heritage Cremation Provider—offering to do a cremation for less than half that cost. They thought they found a fair deal.

The family set up a GoFundMe page to cover the bill. Jessica, now 34, noticed that the forms for the cremation listed Legacy Funeral Services, not Heritage, but they went ahead and signed paperwork to get the process started.

Later that day, Joshua and Jessica received an invoice for $2,200 via email—hundreds over the estimate their sister-in-law had received when she followed up by phone. Their father’s body would also have to be sent to a crematory farther away from where they both lived—the ashes needed to be picked up there directly or shipped for an additional cost.

Not wanting to drag out the process even longer, they paid Legacy half of the full amount, $1,100 using a credit card.

Then Joshua went online to look up the company. He found negative reviews from customers who said they used Legacy. As he read more, he became angry.

He is far from alone. Legacy, which has drawn the wrath of consumers across the nation, has faced accusations of serious wrongdoing by state and federal authorities. The company, Legacy Cremation Services, LLC, which also does business under the names Legacy Funeral Services and Heritage Cremation Provider, is a subsidiary of Funeral & Cremation Group of North America LLC. All are owned by a single man, allegedly operating out of Florida.

In a regulated industry with federal regulations that bar surprise extra charges, the company has been accused of telling customers they will need to pay hundreds more than the prices they were quoted, according to families, reviews left on the Better Business Bureau website and court documents. The company has also been accused of not telling grieving families where the corpses of their loved ones are, as a way to extract more money from them.

“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


State and federal agencies have been slow to adopt proposed regulations on how funeral homes market themselves online. With search engine optimization, Legacy found a way to ensure its name pops up towards the top of results. Those results made it seem the firm has local offices—even in states where it is not licensed to operate, according to court documents.

Last April, the US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Fort Lauderdale Division, opened a civil case on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission, alleging the company and its owner, Anthony Joseph Damiano, engaged in fraud, overbilled customers, used deceitful advertising and even withheld information about the location of bodies.

Agencies in at least five states that regulate the funeral industry have issued cease-and-desist orders, telling the company it is not allowed to operate within their borders, according to the federal complaint.

The Better Business Bureau, the nonprofit that helps consumers know whether a company is reliable, gives Legacy a failing F grade, with an alert warning potential customers of its low evaluation. (Legacy Funeral is unrelated to the popular obituary website

The company declined to comment for this article. In April, it denied the federal allegations, according to court documents.

Joshua and Jessica Seibel were able to make cremation arrangements with another funeral home. It cost them around $3,000. They eventually got most of their money back from Legacy—except for $495 that the company termed a non-refundable fee. They were told that was because someone had already been dispatched to pick up their father’s body on the scheduled day of the transfer.

“I didn’t take the time to grieve,” Joshua Seibel said. “I obsessed.”

He said he used to monitor the company online, but had to take a step back because “it got unhealthy.” In August, he was curious to see if the company was still operating so he sent an email posing as a potential client, and asking for a quote for a loved one. He got a response from “AJ” asking him what city he needed the cremation services in. Seibel worries about any customer that might be signing up for its services.

“He’s probably got somebody on the hook right now,” said Seibel.


When someone used search engines to find local burial services, Legacy and its associated companies appeared on the top of the results. The results worked in states across the country. It presented itself as a local company on its website—even when it did not have a license to operate in that state.

In its civil case against Legacy, federal prosecutors detailed how this worked:

In a search for burial services in Abbeville, Ala., Heritage Cremation would be among the top results. The landing page would state it offered “trusted cremations services in Abbeville.” Only a small note at the bottom of the website noted the company “has a national network of locally-licensed funeral and cremation providers for final funeral and cremation services, which includes hand selected independently owned and locally operated licensed funeral and crematory establishments.”

 Federal prosecutors submitted screen grabs in court to show how Heritage Cremation, a Legacy sister company, would appear as a local cremation provider online.

Elsewhere it would offer cremations for as little as $695, but prosecutors said the price was always hundreds of dollars more.

Another image from the complaint shows prices that federal authorities say were not an accurate reflection of what consumers were most often charged.

Customers say they did not realize at first that the company would hire other companies to do the work. Sometimes there would be delays that lasted weeks. Some customers say if they complained about additional charges, the company would threaten to not give the family the corpse.

Damiano also has faced state regulatory actions.

From 2014 to 2021, at least 10 states told the company that it was using deceitful sales tactics, operating without a license or making misstatements in marketing materials. During this time frame, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania and Vermont issued cease and desist letters, telling the company not to offer services where it does not have a proper license. The company signed a cease-and-desist agreement with Georgia based on similar allegations in 2017.

That same year, Colorado revoked the company’s funeral home registration. According to state filings, the company’s website offered cremations by “licensed funeral home directors,” but in reality it did not have a license to operate as a crematory and did not employ any licensed funeral home directors.

Although the funeral home was legally registered with the state, the investigation by the state Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration noted that the company did “not have appropriate equipment or personnel to provide the funeral goods or services it contracts at its registered business address.” The business continued to operate at least through November 2020, according to a cease-and-desist order.

Customer complaints obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the NYCity News Service to the Florida Department of Financial Services include repeated accusations of fraud, surprise extra costs and deceiving customers about the funeral home’s location. Family members said in interviews that when they called the company, they would be cursed at when they complained about services.

Photo by Hannah-Kathryn Valles

Photo by Lara Heard

Photo by Joe Caffrey


In 2015, Debra Okomon, of Jackson, Georgia and her husband alleged in a Florida complaint that they had originally been quoted a price of $995 over the phone for the cremation of her brother by Heritage Cremation.

On the scheduled day, they say they received a call from Heritage telling them they would have to pay $1,500 or find another funeral home. After some negotiation, the price came down to $1,210.

Although the company is registered in Colorado, the price list Okomon received listed a post-office box in Florida as the corporate address.

In 2019, Pat Markowski, learned about Heritage Cremation when her daughter, April Bailey, a Maryland resident, tried to coordinate the cremation of her father, who lived in Florida. According to a Florida complaint filed by Markowski, Bailey was originally quoted a cost of $995, but then received paperwork indicating she had to pay $1,580.

Markowski alleged that when they called the company to contest the higher price, they were told that it had already picked up the body. If the family wanted it sent to another funeral home there would be a $490 fee.

But then Markowski and Bailey found out Heritage did not even have the body.

According to Markowski’s complaint, they got a call from the local medical examiner letting them know the body was ready to be picked up. The family instructed the medical examiner to not release the body to Heritage and instead got another funeral home to pick it up

“I know the funeral homes prey on grieving family members, but this went way beyond that. It is, in my eye, extortion,” wrote Markowski in a complaint to the Florida Department of Financial Services. The state issued a cease-and-desist order to the company in May 2015. Despite this order, Markowski’s complaint alleges the company was fraudulently operating years afterwards.

A Florida state court ordered Heritage Cremation and Legacy Funeral Services in November 2019 to pay $10,000.

The Florida Department of Financial Services also has an alert published on its website warning consumers about Heritage and Legacy, also citing actions taken by other states, including Iowa and Oregon.

Customers aren’t alone in saying they have been victimized by Legacy, which has been accused of encroaching on trademarks in multiple states.

One 2019 complaint filed in U.S District Court in Houston alleged Damiano had infringed on Legacy Funeral Group LLC’s trademark by naming his company Legacy Funeral Services LLC.

Legacy Funeral Group said Damiano’s company also was using a similar logo—and tree —further confusing customers. In addition, cremation providers would often mistakenly send invoices to the wrong company, according to the complaint.

The complaint also said Damiano’s company is “illegally operating in many states without the respective states’ requisite funeral home licenses,” damaging the reputation of the plaintiff.”

The two sides settled the case in May 2022. Damiano’s company agreed not to use the tree logo, and not claim it is based in Texas, according to court documents.

The federal government case in U.S. District Court in Florida was settled this year. The company was ordered to pay a $275,000 civil penalty, not use any deceitful tactics in the way it sells its services, fully disclose its fees online and not delay delivering the remains of any corpse.

Photo by Joe Caffrey

When funeral home workers steal

Pandemic aid proves a tempting target

By Thomas Hughes

When the federal government enacted the Paycheck Protection Program to help pandemic-stricken businesses avoid layoffs, a Houston funeral director got busy.

Jase DePaul Gautreaux of the Wingate Funeral Home sought federal economic relief for fictitious businesses. In all, he applied for more than $13 million in government-backed loans from banks.

He received more than $1.6 million in COVID-relief loans. Then his plan unraveled.

By June 2020, he was arrested by federal officers for fraud. Most of the money was recovered by the IRS.

He pleaded guilty in March 2021 to a federal charge stemming from fraud in applying for federal loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Gautreaux—sentenced to 70 months in prison—petitioned the court for compassionate early release, citing an HIV and asthma diagnosis, as well as obligations to take care of his elderly grandmother, according to public court documents.

Photo by Brianna Poulous

The motion was denied last October by District Court Judge Lynn Hughes, who wrote that Gautreaux did not satisfy the requirements for a compassionate early release. Gautreaux has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn the decision.

Gautreaux was not the only funeral-home worker to face federal accusations of deceit in seeking pandemic relief aid.

In a separate case in Kansas City, Missouri, three defendants were charged with stealing the identities of dead people to seek federal stimulus payments.

Warren Watkins, Marissia Jackson and Lamar K. Johnson were accused of stealing the Social Security numbers of 238 people and applying for stimulus or tax-return payments in their names. All but 12 of the deceased people’s arrangements were handled by two funeral homes where Watkins worked or by a third associated home.

After initially pleading not guilty to 37 charges including wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and making false claims, Watkins entered a guilty plea to one count of defrauding the government in March 2022, court documents show. The other charges were dropped as part of his plea agreement. Watkins was sentenced on April 5 to five years probation plus $4,800 in restitution. Johnson, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, is scheduled to be sentenced June 21.

Photo by Joe Caffrey

A Bad Percentage

FTC finds 25% of funeral homes in violation on pricing—yet rarely name offenders

 By Zoltan Lucas

The federal government has clear regulations to protect grieving relatives from being gouged on funeral expenses: Families must be given understandable price lists, with no hidden costs.

Yet over the past decade, federal investigators posing as customers have found one out of four funeral homes across the nation acting in violation on pricing. A NYCity News Service examination of those undercover FTC probes shows 25 percent of all visits find funeral homes not being transparent about pricing.

Funeral homes in the South, Southwest and the Midwest tend to perform the worst, according to the review of FTC investigation summaries of inspections done every year from 2013 to 2020.

The Federal Trade Commission, which polices the decades-old federal Funeral Rule on pricing disclosures, does not set how much customers are charged. Grieving families can face significantly higher costs for the same casket sold at different funeral homes in the same community—even when those homes are part of the same chain.

Instead, the FTC is in charge of transparency, monitoring whether funeral homes are clear about what they charge. Funeral homes must provide price lists outlining all possible costs, from caskets and cremation to services fees for staff and a hearse.

The regulations also require that consumers know that many costs may not be necessary—for instance, embalming is not routinely required in every state.

The Funeral Rule, first enforced in 1984, followed waves of consumer complaints about hidden charges. The rule still leaves most oversight to the states—including the licensing of funeral directors, inspections and complaints about whether funerals were done properly.

The FTC is considering whether to expand the rule to cover pricing information that funeral homes might post online. Officials from 23 states have also said the FTC should create a standard pricing form for funeral homes, to make it easier for consumers to compare prices.

>>> Related: Battling for Transparency

The FTC typically posts results from its undercover investigations every year or two, though none have been put up since the pandemic began. When contacted by the NYCity News Service, the FTC would not say when the results of its next investigation will be announced or provide details on how it decides which funeral homes to visit.

“I think the way that the whole system is set up is to try and scare funeral homes into complying every time, because if they get caught one time not complying, it’s a really, really high fine.”

– Tanya Marsh, associate dean, Wake Forest University School of Law

Photo by Michael Matteo


Michigan had the single worst inspection period among all states in the past 10 years, when in 2017 the FTC found violations on two-thirds of its undercover probes. A visit the following year also ranked among the 10 worst results.

Federal investigators conducted 579 funeral home visits in the past decade. There are close to 19,000 funeral homes in America.

Georgia logged two top-10 finishes for worst inspections. In the FTC’s most recent report, covering 2018-2020 inspections, for instance, investigators found seven of the 13 funeral homes in Marietta and Gainesville failed to comply with federal rules.

Homes in the Northeast have fared better. Connecticut and New Jersey, for instance, recorded only two violations among 35 inspections during that span.

In rare cases, the FTC names offenders and fines a funeral home.

In 2016, the Ross-Clayton Funeral Home Inc. in Montgomery, Alabama, settled federal civil charges filed in 2012. The home failed to provide an itemized casket price list in two different instances, the FTC said. In 2016, a federal court fined the company $16,000 as part of a consent decree.

In 2014, John Balsamo, owner and funeral director at Harrison Funeral Home Inc. in Westchester County, agreed to pay $32,000 in response to a lawsuit brought two years earlier by the Federal Trade Commission. The agency originally sought $80,000 after it said the home failed to give an itemized price list during two in-person visits.

But in almost every other instance, the FTC does not name the offenders or detail their infractions.

Instead, the FTC places almost every home where violations are found in its Funeral Rule Offender’s Program. Those homes pay a fine and undergo training conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, the industry trade group.

Homes that choose to not enter the training program may face a fine as much as $43,280 for each violation. But the few FTC statements on violations show that almost every home opts in.

Entering the program means not being named as a violator, which has raised debate within the FTC.

“Planning—and paying—for a funeral for a loved one is a difficult experience for many Americans,” Rohit Chopra, then an FTC commissioner, said in a 2020 statement. “I look forward to closely reviewing the FTC’s Funeral Rule and our enforcement strategy, given the rate of noncompliance found in the agency’s undercover inspections.”

The commission, he said, “withholds the names of these lawbreaking funeral homes from the public when announcing the results of funeral home inspections, a privilege that no other industry under FTC jurisdiction enjoys.”

Chopra left the agency in 2021 to head the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The FTC has continued to evaluate possible changes to the funeral rule.


Tanya Marsh, an associate dean at the Wake Forest University School of Law in North Carolina who teaches funeral law and has authored two books on the subject, said there are too few inspections of funeral homes.

“I think the way that the whole system is set up is to try and scare funeral homes into complying every time, because if they get caught one time not complying, it’s a really, really high fine,” Marsh said. “I don’t know how effective that is, right? Because there’s just such a small number of enforcement actions.”

She also said the program may have little impact on the funeral industry’s biggest chains. But many individually owned funeral homes face greater economic consquences.

For a big company, she said, “What’s $11,000? That’s not really gonna matter that much. But for a small mom and pop funeral home in a small town, that’s a devastating financial hit.”

In a 2019 Loyola University Chicago School of Law article, associate editor John Meyer noted that more funeral homes were failing FTC inspections, raising further doubts whether the program is a deterrent.

The percentage of compliance has dropped since 1997, when it was 90 percent. By 2017, it was 77 percent.

“The FTC’s efforts to boost compliance may be insufficient,” Meyer wrote, noting that Congress increased the fine per violation from $16,000 to $40,000 in 2016.

But, Meyer added, the fee to join the offenders’ program “remained 0.8 percent of a funeral home’s average annual gross income.” By protecting first-time offenders “from the full force of federal fines, funeral providers may see an incentive to do nothing until after failing their first FTC inspection.”

The FTC declined to say how it conducts its undercover investigations, including how it determines which funeral homes to visit.

“Our investigations are, in general, confidential and our investigative techniques tend to be confidential as well,” Melissa Dickey, an FTC attorney, told the NYCity News Service.

The Funeral Consumer Alliance criticized the decision to allow the National Funeral Directors Association to run the FTC training program.

In an interview, Christopher L. Farmer, general counsel for the funeral directors group, defended its role.

“We have been involved with helping craft and educate and deal with this rule from the beginning and we have the most resources of anyone to handle it” he said, adding, “We already have the education infrastructure in place. We already have the legal infrastructure in place.”

Photo by Michael Matteo

Broken Trust

Prepaid funeral plans can be an opportunity to steal

 By Kristina Abovyan and Eileen Li

Joseph Casario thought he could help out a fellow funeral home operator.

He’d read about the arrest of Leonard Scarr Jr., who was running Scarr Funeral Home in Suffern, about 30 miles north of New York City.

When Casario saw that Scarr had been charged with defrauding customers of a few thousand dollars each by stealing money paid set aside for pre-need funeral plans, he visited him with the hope to help, he said. The two families had known each other for years, since both had long-owned funeral homes in town. According to Casario, Scarr told him that he used the money for his son’s medical expenses. 

Casario was willing to loan Scarr money—until he realized there were far more than three victims. Instead, it turned out almost 90 families lost more than a half-million dollars entrusted to Scarr for covering the cost of future burial needs.

“There were a lot of people that needed to be cared for, because they had prepaid funerals,” Casario said. “They had no money, and we had to take care of those people.” 

Scarr’s clients were not alone. The promise of a preneed funeral policy is that someone can pay for their burial, and their loved ones would not need to worry about the cost. 

But an NYCity News Service examination found cases across the country where funeral homes have been accused of wrongdoing in lawsuits and charged by prosecutors when money has gone missing. Funeral homes have defrauded clients, leaving grieving families in their darkest moments suddenly learning the money they thought was available to bury a loved one is long gone.

The News Service also analyzed laws and regulations in 35 states, which showed a patchwork in oversight, with wide differences in financial monitoring for protecting consumers. 

In New York state, when a customer pays for a preneed funeral, the funeral home has 10 working days to deposit the money into an interest-bearing account, though not necessarily in a federally insured bank account. Then, in the next 30 business days the funeral home is required by law to give the customer a receipt showing the money was deposited. After that, it is required to send an annual statement documenting how much the account has grown from accrued interest. 

But those rules were not enough to stop Scarr. 

Misplaced confidence

People in town trusted Scarr and his business. At 53, Scarr was the chief executive officer of Scarr Funeral Home, which has been operating since 1920. It was once run by his father, who was the town’s mayor from 1985 to 1989. 

One woman defrauded by Scarr called him “a dear friend” who she’d known for 30 years, who had buried her father and many members of  her husband’s family. She asked not to be named in this story because of her friendship with Scarr, despite losing money to him.

“He was a friend, so we had no reason to doubt him until I read about his arrest in the newspaper and online,” the victim stated in a court filing

Casario knew Scarr professionally. “The business is a small world,” he said. They used the same companies, the same casket makers. 

When Casario went to see Scarr about the arrest, he said Scarr “swore up and down” that there were only three victims. Casario said he loaned him $10,000 for legal expenses. 

Soon, Casario said, Scarr asked for another $10,000. Casario made a counter offer; a business deal, a partnership where they would manage the funeral home together. The $10,000, combined with the earlier $10,000 would serve as a down payment. Scarr agreed. 

When Casario and his team went to the Scarr Funeral Home in Suffern, he said, they found the police emptying the building, collecting evidence. Casario suspected that the crime went beyond three people. It was later, through local news articles, that he found out the actual number of victims was much higher. He decided against having a partnership with Scarr. 

In the next weeks, Casario’s and Scarr’s lawyers worked on a new deal. It led to Casario buying the funeral home in June 2021. It was rebranded as the Edwards Funeral Chapel. 

Casario wanted to help families that had been relying on Scarr. 

There were corpses that needed to be buried. Casario said that when he took over the funeral home, “there were also (bodies) who needed to be cared for at the moment that were literally in the building.” 

Then there were those who purchased preneed funeral policies and lost their money. 

For one of the victims, Scarr deposited the money into an interest-bearing bank account. Scarr could only access the funds when the person died. Every year, for more than a decade, the customer got yearly statements on the account. 

But suddenly, the statements stopped coming. Scarr had forged the customer’s death certificate, and pulled the money. 

For another victim, he signed an agreement with the customer. But he never went to the bank. He simply pocketed the money .

According to court records, all 89 victims identified during the investigation were offered two options: get a full refund, or stay with Edwards Funeral Chapel. 

Three quarters chose to stay with the funeral home, which after their death would fulfill the contracts for their burial. The other 23 asked to be reimbursed. By August 2022, all 23 had received their refunds. In total, about $530,000 was put aside after the sale of the Scarr Funeral Home to either refund the victims or honor the contracts after their deaths. 

“We were going into a situation where there was no longer trust,” Casario said. “And understandably, because they had been robbed of their preneed money.”

Scarr, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree grand larceny and one each of second-degree forgery and scheme to defraud before going to prison.

Scarr’s attorney declined to comment when contacted by the News Service, and Scarr, who has been released, did not return a request for comment.

“We were going into a situation where there was no longer trust and, understandably, because they had been robbed of their preneed money.”

– Joseph Casario

Photo by Joe Caffrey

Patchwork Regulation

The News Service analyzed the laws in 35 states to explore the range of regulation of preneed funeral plans across the country. There’s a wide disparity in the levels of financial oversight.

Most states specify deadlines for how soon funeral homes must deposit a customer’s money for a pre-need funeral after signing a contract. Yet regulation and enforcement varies. Four require quarterly reports and 22 require annual reports, but only 15 of the 35 states in their statutes explicitly outline penalties and standards for violations of regulations.

Regulations for getting refunds also vary greatly. If something goes wrong or you decide to opt out of the preneed plan, you may not get your money back. It depends on where you live.

In Alabama, for example, within 30 days of agreeing to a preneed funeral, customers can change their mind and get a full refund. After 30 days, they would need to submit a request for cancellation in writing. The amount they would get back depends on the details in the contract with the funeral home.

Montana allows a customer to revoke the agreement and get a full refund plus any accrued interest. 

In Washington state, a customer can end the contract and get a refund of 50 percent of the fund, minus expenses. Alaska‘s laws are less detailed, lacking specific conditions for cancellations and refunds. 

There are situations that are rarely addressed by regulations, particularly when the customer dies outside the state where they purchased their burial plan.

In Montana, funeral homes are required to offer alternative funeral arrangements if the person dies out of state. Others, like Oregon, do not have that requirement. 

Aside from state regulations, some measures within the industry are designed to offer protections. 

In New York, some funeral homes may opt to work with PrePlan Funeral Trust, administered by the New York State Funeral Directors Association. PrePlan Funeral Trust promises to put all the money into government-insured accounts. The funds get audited yearly by an independent auditor. In addition to a yearly tax statement, PrePlan sends statements whenever there is any activity in an account, including in case of a new deposit or changes in funeral home charges. 

“We want the consumer to be protected. We want them to know that their funds are in an investment vehicle that has no risk,” said Melissa Sergalis, director of Preneed Trust Services at PrePlan. “The biggest thing is peace of mind—making peace of mind for your family.”

Still, if a funeral home takes the money without telling PrePlan Funeral Trust, the money could go missing. The customer would only realize something is amiss if the first deposit statement doesn’t come in mail about a month later. 

New York has one of the most stringent laws in the country, according to Sergalis. Yet cases like Scarr’s can happen. 

Better options

Sara Williams, president of the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance, said she understands why Americans would purchase pre-need plans. 

“I know people in their hearts and minds are thinking, ‘I’m gonna take care of this for my children,'” she said.

However, children may not know their parents purchased a pre-need policy and then do not use the money for their loved ones’ services. Or prices may have increased so much that the policy doesn’t cover all costs.

“It’s going to be horrible. And on the worst day of their lives,” Williams said. “You’re trying to think that things are in order. And they’re not.”

Williams said there are options that she believes are safer.

Williams instead recommends a payable-on-death plan, also known as a Totten trust. It is a type of bank account that accrues interest over time, and you can withdraw the money at any time. By naming a family member or another trusted person as your beneficiary, when you pass away, they can easily access the funds if they are aware of your plans.

“Preplan and don’t prepay,” she said.

For those who have already signed a preneed plan, they could consider getting a refund, though whether they could get all their money back would depend on the state they live in. 

In addition, families could rely on other options, like traditional life-insurance policies, which are typically regulated by state commissioners, and could be used to cover burial costs.  

Scarr’s journey to prison

In late 2020, Scarr was indicted on more than 100 counts including grand larceny and forgery. In July 2021, he entered a plea deal

He was sentenced to two to six years in prison and ordered to make full restitution of more than $530,000, the total amount that investigators said was lost by customers.

Casario said there was nothing regulators could have done to prevent what Scarr did. Laws outline what funeral homes should do, he said, and funeral homes then need to follow the law.

“It was easy. It literally ended at trust. They didn’t check on him,” Casario said. “The money wasn’t put in the proper place. There was no way to regulate it.”

This story was produced for the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY’s NYCity News Service in collaboration with the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where Kristina Abovyan and Eileen Li are based. Newmark student Audrey Neilson contributed reporting.

Loose Regulation

Photo by Michael Matteo