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Former President of The Iowa Funeral Directors Association Faces Sanctions

November 11, 2009

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Former President of The Iowa Funeral Directors Association Faces Sanctions

image The former president of the Iowa Funeral Directors Association faces sanctions from the state after being accused of keeping kegs of beer in his funeral home and discussing with workers a desire to kill his wife.

Mark Kessler of Kessler Funeral Homes in Audubon was board president for the Iowa Funeral Directors Association in 1997 and 1998. In 2007, two of his former employees, Traci Smith and Marilyn Eddy, alleged that Kessler routinely called one of the women insulting names, appeared at her home while drunk, made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature and drank excessive amounts of beer while working.

The Iowa Board of Mortuary Science also is investigating another funeral home director who allegedly would not release the cremated remains of an individual because of a billing dispute with the deceased’s family, and a third person who embezzled $179,420 from his employer, then started a competing funeral home.

Kessler would sometimes emerge from the shower at the funeral home and walk through the office wearing only shorts or pajama bottoms, the former employees said in their complaint. On some occasions, Kessler allegedly flung his wet washcloth or towel at Smith.

Smith and Eddy also alleged that Kessler would comment on how he could kill his estranged wife and get away with it. He also allegedly twice sent Smith to estate sales to shop for guns.

State records indicate Smith first complained of Kessler’s actions in 2006 while she worked as an intern. She relayed her concerns to Ruth Ohde, who was then a member of the Board of Mortuary Science, which oversees Iowa’s funeral directors. Ohde told Smith she would have to file a formal complaint against Kessler before the board could act.

In June 2007, almost a year after she quit her job, Smith filed a complaint with the board. In response, Kessler told the board he never considered killing his wife, but he acknowledged sending Smith to look at guns. He admitted drinking from kegs of beer that he kept in the funeral home, but said he never had more than one or two beers while on call.

Kessler told The Des Moines Register that Smith filed her complaint with the board only after the state refused to act on her claims of illegal business practices.

“Most of her story is a fabrication,” he said. “It’s simple to do when you have the law in front of you, all of the rules and regulations. Because basically what she did was go down the line and fabricated stories to match that.”

The mortuary science board has fined Kessler $1,000, placed his license on probation for one year and barred him from supervising interns at the home. The board is also requiring that Kessler pay $405 in hearing expenses and develop a plan for remedial continuing education.

Kessler said he is appealing the board’s decision.

Other Iowa funeral directors to recently face action from the mortuary science board include:

– Raymond Bertrand of Bybee-Davis Funeral Home in Knoxville, who is accused of unethical acts that are harmful to the public. A hearing before the board is scheduled for Dec. 10. Bertrand is accused of refusing to turn over the cremated remains of a person who died in 2007 because of a billing dispute with the deceased’s family. The dispute is allegedly related to Bertrand’s failure to secure a written contract with the family.

Bertrand said Monday that the allegations come from an extended member of the deceased’s family, and he expects the deceased’s mother to help explain the situation at the Dec. 10 hearing.

“There are outright untruths in the statements made against me,” he said.

– Mark Rohde of Rohde Funeral Home in Kingsley, who is barred from working in an Iowa funeral home. Rohde worked for Mauer-Johnson Funeral Home in Le Mars when he embezzled $179,420 from the owners. After being convicted of theft and placed on probation, Rohde began working for a competing home that was set up by his in-laws and was operating under his name.

District Judge Stephen J. Andreasen recently upheld the board’s decision to revoke Rohde’s license and prohibit him from working in a funeral home.

“Rohde’s presence, in any capacity, in a funeral establishment may present a danger to the public interest,” Andreasen ruled.