Hall of Shame: Dirty Directors Accused of $4 Million in Theft or Fraud in 2019
Theft, embezzlement, and fraud can be found in virtually every industry, but these crimes hit harder when they happen in death care. Perhaps that’s because our industry depends and is built on a foundation of trust, respect, and compassion. Unfortunately, there are a few folks within the funeral, cremation, and cemetery space who ignore that ethical code.
In 2019, dirty directors, owners, and counselors intentionally swindled clients and families out of at least $4 million — the majority in mishandled preneed funds. Most of these folks enjoyed short-term financial gains but lost their businesses, licenses, jobs, reputations, and/or freedom. While this is most likely not an exhaustive list, here are the accusations, indictments, and admissions to fraud, embezzlement, and more making headlines in 2019.
Funeral home director Roy Vance Prestwood, Jr. was charged with organized fraud and insurance fraud. Prestwood, former owner of Prestwood Funeral Home in Florida, collected more than $100,000 from 2006 to 2013 by cashing in life insurance policies held for pre-needs on clients who were still alive.
Former funeral director Martin Feldner pleaded guilty to nine counts of aggravated theft and forgery after embezzling more than $750,000 from Addy Funeral Home in Ohio from 2010 to 2018. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in August, and ordered to pay the funeral home $2.3 million as a result of a related civil suit.
William “B.J.” Elias, owner of Elias Funeral Home in Illinois, was accused of misappropriating nearly $50,000 from the pre-need contracts of seven victims from 2012 to 2019.
Terrance McGinley, former head of SCI-owned Harmon Home for Funerals in New York, pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree grand larceny for embezzling more than $50,000 from the business.
Lonnie Nyman, owner of the now-defunct Nyman Funeral Home in Utah, pleaded guilty to mishandling more than $500,000 in pre-need funds from 2005 to 2017 by using the money for operating costs rather than depositing it into a trust account. He was sentenced to prison on unrelated charges.
After being found guilty of embezzling nearly $350,000 from Ponger-Kays-Grady Funeral Home in Florida, former funeral director Floyd Rice took his own life just days before sentencing.
Former funeral home owner Mark Kacirek of Ohio pleaded not guilty to charges of theft and receiving stolen property. He “co-mingled” over $100,000 in pre-need funds of 15 clients with other funeral home accounts from 2014 to 2019, even though his funeral home had been out of business since 2009 and his license expired since 2012.
Denis Johnson, owner and funeral director of Johnson Funeral Home in Michigan, was charged with four felony counts of failing to escrow prepaid funeral contract funds. An audit found that he failed to properly escrow more than $223,000 from 75 prepaid contracts.
O’Neil Swanson II pleaded no contest to failing to properly invest more than $75,000 in preneed funds from about 70 contracts at his now-defunct Swanson Funeral Home in Michigan.
Caroline Rich, a family services counselor for Alexander Funeral Homes in Indiana, allegedly stole more than $38,000 from at least four families. One of those families was that of a three-year-old boy who died after being forgotten in a parked car.
Funeral director Michelle M. Rosenbaum was charged with felonious theft for allegedly stealing more than $60,000 from her previous employer, Lamb Young Funeral Home in Illinois. She allegedly paid her personal credit card debts and made unauthorized purchases using a credit card from the funeral home’s business account.
Georgia funeral director and coroner Jerry Bridges was indicted on 44 counts of theft after 50 people said he stole $200,000 they had prepaid for final expenses from 1996 to 2018.
Pennsylvania funeral director Stephen Kezmarsky pleaded guilty to theft and forgery after stealing more than $525,000 from 82 preneed victims of Kezmarsky Funeral Home over a 12-year period.
Former funeral director William O’Leary pleaded guilty to stealing almost $1 million from family-owned O’Leary Funeral Home in Pennsylvania. The funds were paid by 87 pre-need customers from 2009 to 2018.