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Fla. Seeks To Close Funeral Home, New Charges Filed

The state wants to shut down Holmes Funeral Directors. The Haines City-based business has been under scrutiny ever since funeral director and owner Claude Edward Holmes Jr., 48, was arrested in June on charges of illegally dumping human remains.

Now new charges have been filed against Holmes and his business, even though his wife and current director, Deliria Holmes, says the business has fixed the violations.

The administrative charges come from the office of Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, which licenses the business, and include using an unlicensed person without proper training to perform biohazard removals; issuing contracts for services that did not contain required information; operating with an expired license; and failure to obtain proper authorization to take possession of and embalm bodies.

On Friday, Deliria Holmes said the charges stem from an inspection that occurred after her husband’s arrest, when she inherited sole responsibility of the business. “I’m supposed to know everything going on in our funeral home, but I was not informed of certain things,” she said. She has since corrected the violations, she explained, and the business is now in compliance with the law.

The employee who was not licensed has now received training and certification, she said, adding that her husband had issued contracts without certain information because he had provided the services for free.

“There were some contracts that were not signed because he did not charge for them,” she said.

In some cases, she said, he had verbal permission from families to do work but failed to obtain authorization forms.

She continues to fight the criminal charges against her husband.

Authorities say he discarded organs of a man in a shallow hole at Haines City’s Oakland Cemetery. The Sheriff’s Office says he told detectives he had discarded remains there between 10 and 15 times since 2000.

But Deliria Holmes said that separate organ burials are common practice for funeral homes, especially when a body is badly decomposed.

That was true in Robert Donaldson’s case, Deliria Holmes said. After he drowned, she said, Donaldson’s family had difficulty finding a funeral home they could afford. His body was still not buried nearly a week after his death. Claude Holmes decided to remove the organs for separate burial so the family did not have to endure the odor during the open-casket service.

“This family had no money. They could not get a sealed casket. Everybody else was going to charge them an excessive amount of money,” Deliria Holmes said. “(The organ burial) was done to spare the family from an offensive odor.”

Sink’s office could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

A news release from Sink’s office said a probable cause board filed the charges in order to seek disciplinary action, including revocation of the business license. Claude Holmes’ license was suspended in June.

Holmes’ civil lawyer, Christopher Chestnut, called the administrative complaints “standard protocol and procedure.”

“I don’t think their intent is to shut down the business. I think the CFO and the state of Florida encourages small businesses. This funeral home is a very reputable institution.”

The Holmeses have 21 days after receiving the state’s complaint to respond. Chestnut said he intends to do so.

Claude Holmes remains in Polk County Jail without bail on charges of violating his probation. He also faces charges of illegal dumping, disposing hazardous waste without a permit, operating without a biomedical waste permit, and resisting an officer without violence, according to court records.

[ Shoshana Walter can be reached at shoshana.walter@theledger.com or 863-802-7590. ]

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