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FCA recognizes that the dissemination of individual experiences, the reporting of public information, and linking to other sites can help further our mission of educating the public on their funeral rights and options. However, FCA's limited resources and the nature of the Internet make it impossible to verify the content of personal experiences that are supplied by others or to verify the content of linked sites. FCA accepts no responsibility for these. Comments on the contents of personal reports and linked websites should be directed to the author(s).



FTC "Sweeps" NYC Metro Funeral Homes

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Funeral Rule Violators

The Federal Trade Commission announced the results of a "sweep" of metropolitan New York City homes on December 29, 2003. The FTC press release stated that 12 of 29 funeral homes were found by test shoppers to have violated the Funeral Rule. From the paperwork we obtained from the FTC through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, it appears these violators either didn't produce the required price lists, or didn't offer them at the required time.

FTC test shoppers visited these funeral homes twice. Among the violators, many were found to break the rules on both visits. Others were caught violating the rules on only one occasion.

While the FTC has promised not to release the names of Funeral Rule violators to the press when the violators enter the Funeral Rule Offender Program ("FROP", run by the National Funeral Directors Association - more on this to come), these names are public record and we release them as soon as the FTC responds to our FOIA requests.

Below are the violators found during the fall, 2003 "sweep." For each, we've noted the violation(s) found on each visit, and the remedial actions taken. See the bottom of this page for a key to abbreviations.


Baker Funeral Service, Bridgeport, CT

Violations, 1st visit

  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No violations
Remedial Action: FTC sent letter asking for Funeral Rule compliance

Blair Mazzarella Funeral Home, Brooklyn, NY

Violations, 1st visit
  • Late GPL
  • Late CPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • Late GPL
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL
Remedial Action: Entered FROP

Daniel George Funeral Home, Brooklyn, NY

Violations, 1st visit
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL
Remedial Action: FTC offered option of entering FROP

Dougiello Funeral Home, Bridgeport, CT

Violations, 1st visit
  • No GPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No GPL
  • No CPL
Remedial Action: Entered FROP

English Brothers Funeral Home, Brooklyn, NY

Violations, 1st visit
  • No GPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No significant violations
Remedial Action: FTC sent letter asking for Funeral Rule compliance

George Peterson Funeral Home, Bridgeport, CT

Violations, 1st visit
  • No CPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No CPL
Remedial Action: Entered FROP

Green Funeral Home, Fairfield, CT

Violations, 1st visit
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No GPL
Remedial Action: Entered FROP

Guido Funeral Home, Brooklyn, NY

Violations, 1st visit
  • No GPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No violations
Remedial Action: FTC sent letter asking for Funeral Rule compliance
LaBella Funeral Chapel, Brooklyn, NY

Violations, 1st visit
  • Late GPL
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No GPL
  • No CPL
Remedial Action: Entered FROP

Lesko Funeral Home, Fairfield, CT

Violations, 1st visit
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No CPL
  • No OBCPL
Remedial Action: Entered FROP

Lester Gee Funeral Home, Bridgeport, CT

Violations, 1st visit
  • No GPL

Violations, 2nd visit
  • No significant violations
Remedial Action: FTC sent letter asking for Funeral Rule compliance

McDonald Funeral Home, Stratford, CT

Violations, 1st visit
  • No OBCPL
Apparently only one visit was performed

Remedial Action: FTC sent letter asking for Funeral Rule compliance


Key to Abbreviations
  • GPL = General Price List
  • CPL = Casket Price List
  • OBCPL - Outer Burial Container (vault) Price List
  • NFDA = National Funeral Directors Association
  • FROP = Funeral Rule Offenders Program
  • FTC = Federal Trade Commission
 

Memory's Garden Cemetery in Trouble

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CHARGES OF WRONG BURIALS, UNAUTHORIZED EXHUMATIONS, AND COVERING UP THE EVIDENCE

11/05/03 THE LATEST NEWS From The (Albany) Business Review (scroll down for the history of this case):

Board of Directors at Albany Cemetery to Resign
The board of directors of a Colonie cemetery will resign under the terms of an agreement with the New York State Cemetery Board designed to resolve mismanagement complaints.
The state cemetery board, chaired by New York state Secretary of State Randy Daniels signed a consent order with the six members of the board of directors of Memory's Garden Cemetery Inc., which operates the Memory's Garden Cemetery located on Watervliet-Shaker Road, under which the current board will be replaced by eight directors chosen by cemetery lot owners.
No current board members will be allowed to vote at these meetings or serve in any position withthe cemetery at any time. Memory's Garden officials had no comment on the settlement.
Investigations conducted by the state's Division of Cemeteries and the attorney general's charities bureau revealed financial problems at the cemetery as well as incidents of damage to vaults during the burial process, misburials, and unauthorized disinterment and re-interment of remains discovered to be buried in the wrong location.
State law specifically forbids disinterments without family consent.
"Investigations into management practices at Memory's Garden found serious deficiencies that violated State regulations protecting consumers and jeopardized the long-term financial well-being of the cemetery," Daniels said in a written statement.
The Division of Cemeteries began investigating Memory's Garden in July 2002 in response to a number of complaints about mismanagement at the cemetery. Investigators also found potential violations of state cemetery regulations related to pre-construction sales of space in a proposed "Serenity Mausoleum."
In February 2003 the Cemetery Board ordered the cemetery to stop selling spaces in the unbuilt mausoleum and to come up with a plan for fixing problems. When Daniels deemed the response from the board to be inadequate, the matter was referred to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office.
The settlement announced on Nov. 3 does not shield the former board members from liability for any acts for which they may ultimately be found legally responsible.
The Cemetery Board is contacting family members to inform them of the incidents, and advise them of the changes to the members of the Memory's Garden board of directors.
Under the terms of the agreement, the state cemetery board will temporarily table its review of Memory Garden's application to build the Serenity Mausoleum until the new board of directors is in place.
5/16/03
The New York State Attorney General's Office is investigating a cemetery in Albany accused of burying bodies in the wrong places and then falsifying records to cover it up. According to an investigation by the State Cemetery Board, Memory's Garden Cemetery buried bodies in the wrong locations, dug them up without permission from families or the courts,"mislead" funeral directors about the problems and then falsified its own records to hide misdeeds.

But it doesn't end there. The Board also accuses Memory's Garden's Board of Directors of violating a host of not-for-profit cemetery regulations and of putting customers' prepaid crypts in danger. According to the charges, Memory's Garden was building mausoleums on speculation, selling to customers crypt spaces that weren't even built yet.

 

"The cemetery’s sale of mausoleum space prior to construction, without filing the prices for the entombment units with the State Cemetery Board or setting aside a portion of monies received to make refunds in the event space is unavailable at the time of death, violates the New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and is indicative of gross mismanagement and negligence," the report states.

 

The State Cemetery Board's report can be found here .

FCA learned of this problem on May 4, when an extremely distraught woman wrote to us by email to ask for our advice. She is horrified at the prospect of having to exhume the bodies of her husband and infant; she says their graves are among those affected in this case:

 

"Will their bodies be badly disturbed to do this? Do I need to be there? What if they exhume the caskets and they are not my family? ... I don't know where or how to begin making new arrangements or picking out another cemetery. I'm afraid my trust is just not there anymore."

According to the Albany Times-Union, the cemetery's president, Janet Kolner, denied the allegations. According to the article, Kolner said the cemetery had sent all requested information to the Cemetery Board and she couldn't understand why the case had been referred to the Attorney General's office.

Kolner also Memory's Garden's Board of Directors found no evidence of any improperly buried bodies "except for the allegations of a former employee who they view as unreliable," according to the Times-Union.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Pigott told the FCA national office that while cemeteries in New York are to be not-for-profit corporations governed by a democratically elected board, the will of many grave owners often makes little difference.

 

"In reality, there’s very little lot owner participation in these elections," Pigott said. "The Board of Directors usually has enough lots to outvote the others and reelect themselves."

The AG's office wants to hear from families who believe they may be affected by problems at Memory Gardens. Individuals can call or write to:

Robert Pigott
Assistant Attorney General, Charities Bureau
NYS Dept. of Law
120 Broadway
NY, NY
10271
212-416-8397

 

 

Bones, Bugs, and Batesville

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(This is a reprint of an article that appeared in the FAMSA Newsletter, Spring 1999)
by Lisa Carlson
The "Body Farm" it's been called—the brain-child of Dr. William Bass, a forensic anthropologist—and the only location of its kind in the country. Several out-of-town acres owned by the University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville have been set aside to study body decomposition and the relevant stages of insect development.

The bodies there have been donated for scientific study, and—for the most part—will end up in the university's collection of skeletons that make up a large database of body-types. With a growing collection, forensic experts are charting the differences between male and female, old and young, black and white, tall and short, heavy and thin. The skeletal studies provide a basis for computer whizzes who can then reconstruct likely features as an aid in identification.

Last Updated ( Monday, 14 July 2008 14:41 ) Read more...
 

Bait and Switch in Las Vegas

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Bait and Switch

Price Gouging at Palm Mortuary

May 13, 2001

Leroy Wright
Palm Mortuary
1325 North Main Street
Las Vegas, NV 89101

Dear Mr. Wright:

I am writing this letter to register my dissatisfaction regarding my experience at Palm Mortuary in handling the funeral arrangements for my brother, Martin A. Milley. My concern relates specifically to the way in which Palm Mortuary's charges were explained to me in advance compared to how charges were imposed at the time of signing the necessary paperwork. In essence, I believe that I have been subject to "bait and switch" tactics.

In writing this letter, I am not primarily seeking an adjustment of the charges. Rather, I want you and every one in the funeral industry to understand how short sighted and counter-productive these practices are. If this letter contributes to more effective regulation, or better yet, higher ethical standards observed throughout the funeral industry, the result would be far better than a simple adjustment after complaint.

Marty's daughter, Michelle Milley, made our family's first contact with Palm Mortuary via telephone late in the week of Marty's death. Michelle spoke with Virginia Baltier (my apologies if Virginia's name is not spelled correctly) and got details on an "ID viewing" and "direct cremation." The discussion included reference to a "Simplicity" cremation container ($125). At that time, the costs under discussion were slightly over $1,000. [Palm Mortuary's General Price List (GPL) offers Direct Cremation at $955 if the customer supplies the container and at $980 with an alternative container, a difference of $25. Apparently, over the telephone, Mr. Milley's family was going to be charged $100 more for the alternative container.]

I first spoke with Virginia via telephone on Saturday. At that time, I indicated that we wanted to invite one of Marty's friends and have a more formal viewing. Virginia told me that embalming ($440) [consistent with the GPL] and the use of a Mortuary viewing room ($325) [$180 on the GPL] would be necessary. With the understanding that total charges would be less than $2,000, I gave Virginia verbal authorization for the embalming. [Per phone quote: $955 + $125 + $440 + $325 = $1,845] Family members then committed to travel arrangements for a Tuesday, March 13 mortuary viewing. The important point here is that I was led to make these commitments with an understanding that total costs would be less than $2,000. I believe that my conversation with Virginia was very explicit in this regard.

When Michelle and I arrived at Palm Mortuary Monday morning March 12, Rick VerPlanck handled the necessary paperwork because that was Virginia's day off. Very much to our surprise, Rick insisted that rather than assembling individual charges as Virginia had quoted over the phone, we were required to start with the "CREMATION WITH VISITATION AND FUNERAL CEREMONY" package ($3180) and to delete the "USE OF FACILITIES/STAFF FOR MEMORIAL SERVICE IN CHAPEL" (-$725). While I explained to Rick the basis of my understanding with Virginia, he absolutely refused to extend the pricing that I thought that I had agreed to with Virginia before committing to the embalming and travel schedule.[It is a violation of the FTC Funeral Rule not to let the consumer pick and choose the services and merchandise wanted.]

In addition, Rick stated that the "Simplicity" cremation container ($150) that had been discussed for the "ID viewing" was not permitted in the mortuary viewing rooms. The least expensive container that he would allow in the mortuary viewing room was the "Minor - Flat (cloth)" cremation container ($295). [Again, it is a violation of the Funeral Rule to tell consumers what they must buy, regardless of which room is used for viewing.] Even after we were able to see the various cremation containers in the Mortuary show room, this remained a point of considerable contention in our conversation. However, Rick remained firm. He simply would not permit use of the "Simplicity" container. Payment in full was made via my charge card in the amount of $3,003.27 on March 12, 2001.

Finally, when I explained to Rick that the Veterans Administration told me that there was a VA death benefit, Rick handed me VA form 21-530 titled "Application for Burial Benefits (Under 38 U.S.C., Chapter 23)". When I mentioned that the VA had lead me to believe that the funeral home would help me with the form, Rick used words similar to "We don't do that anymore."

In summary, I am not very satisfied with my experience at Palm Mortuary. It seems obvious to me that I was given low price information as long as I was still in a position to take my business elsewhere. Once, as a result of travel and schedule commitments, I no longer had this flexibility, the prices suddenly changed.

As there are no other immediate family members residing in Las Vegas or within the region served by Palm Mortuary, my dissatisfaction is not likely to directly impact future business for Palm Mortuary. However, I assure you that my experience at Palm Mortuary will impact my future dealings with the funeral industry. Specifically, I expect that I will be handling the final affairs of both of my parents. In addition, shortly after finishing this letter, I intend to amend my own will to be very explicit about how I want my own affairs to be handled in this respect. I have already had a number of candid conversations with both family and friends on the subject of their personal arrangements. Palm Mortuary's short-term gain will ultimately become the funeral industry's long-term loss.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Michael Milley


May 23, 2001

Dear Mr. Milley:

I have received your letter regarding your unsatisfactory experience with Palm Mortuary. I want to apologize for the way you were treated. Your experience is not the way we try to do business. I will not defend what our staff told you: Rick was mistaken on several issues. Suffice it to say that we did not intend to mislead or deceive you.

I am enclosing a refund check in the amount of $183 which represents the difference between the $125 casket price you were initially quoted and the $295 casket you did purchase (with sales tax adjustment).

Be assured that your letter and your experience will be used to insure that what you experienced will not happen to someone else. [How might that be?]

Sincerely,

Leroy Wright
General Manager


[FCA's executive director, Lisa Carlson, wrote to the president of Palm Mortuary pointing out the FTC violations and indicated that we were considering posting Mr. Milley's complaint on our web site. The letter asked if any of Mr. Milley's facts were in dispute. The following reply was received.]

May 31, 2001

Dear Ms. Carlson:

We received your FAX regarding the complaint of Michael Milley regarding his treatment at our funeral home. Attached is a copy of our May 23rd written response, apology, and partial refund to Mr. Milley.

We are aware of the FTC rules, and we apologize for the inappropriate way our staff handled his funeral arrangements. As Mr. Wright, our general manager, responded to Mr. Milley, it was a mistake and we are taking appropriate actions to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.

Sincerely,

Roger Kreml
Executive Vice-president

[Not finding this a very inspired response, we called Mr. Kreml: "What actions are you taking to make sure this won't happen in the future?" He replied, "We're going back to the basics with both funeral directors and how they pass the baton between one staff member and another dealing with the same family." That hardly seemed sufficient, so the problems with the General Price List were mentioned. He seemed totally unaware. We also noted that the "partial" refund of $183 was rather gratuitous when Mr. Milley had been charged $1,000 more than anticipated. Mr. Kreml didn't have much to say to that.]


The lesson to be learned:

Palm Mortuary apparently has priced its "Direct Cremation" to compete with area funeral homes or at least keep it within a few hundred dollars of what is charged at other local mortuaries. It is perfectly reasonable for a consumer to assume that, if additional goods or services are wanted, the price for each will simply be added to a package price.

But Palm Mortuary insisted on charging Mr. Milley a la carte prices that resulted in a total that was more than $1,000 over that.

How can that be, you might ask? Palm Mortuary is a prime example of funeral homes that are abusing the nondeclinable "Basic Services of Funeral Director and Staff" fee -- a sort of cover charge you must pay. This fee is for those services common to ALL funeral arrangements (meeting the family, getting the death certificate information, obituary information, and any required permits--a couple of hours work as a rule). It was never anticipated that it would be a large portion of the funeral bill. In fact, this fee--per the FTC--is supposed to be small enough to be included in package prices such as "Direct Cremation" or "Immediate Burial."

On the Palm Mortuary GPL, however, this nondeclinable fee is $1,025. Hard to see how it could be "included" in a package price of $955 that also provides significant other items. Some funeral directors claim they "discount" the "Basic" fee in the immediate disposition packages. But that is NOT what the FTC Funeral Rule says. If that were permitted, families choosing more services would pay a penalty--an extra fee--simply for wanting more services, IN ADDITION to paying for the services themselves. This is the opposite of most business practices. Of course, more elaborate services are more work and require more overhead than minimal options. But the additional recompense for the funeral home should be captured in the price of each offering, not in a nondeclinable fee that holds the consumer hostage to the tune of $1,000 or more.

Any funeral home with a nondeclinable fee of more than $400 or so certainly creates the appearance of gouging the public. FCA wants the FTC to eliminate ANY nondeclinable fee whatsoever.

 

FTC Complaint Against SCI for Multiple Price Lists

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April 17, 2001

Myra Howard
FTC
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20508

Dear Myra,

Apparently, Service Corporation International (SCI) is now selling funerals to veterans via mail. See the enclosed sales material being sent to California vets.

It would appear that this promotion is in violation of the FTC Funeral Rule. While it is fairly clear that an insurance vehicle is being used to fund the plan (and a General Price List is not required to sell insurance), the package as promoted is for a funeral or cremation, not insurance. Furthermore, if you will note the text by Step 10 of the "Prearrangement" form, only after a payment is made does the company plan to send out "a Statement of Goods and Services [and] the VFW/Ladies Auxiliary Dignity Memorial Plans General Price List. . . " In that order, no less, but no casket price list.

For those of limited means, there are much better choices out there. Undoubtedly, SCI is expecting that those with more funds at their disposal won't settle for a bottom-of-the-line "light metal" casket. Because "no substitutions" are permitted, an a la carte funeral could easily double the cost, even with a 10% discount. But, of course, no GPL is being made available to disclose that fact. Consumer Reports found, as we have, that prices are significantly higher at the chains. It's hard to understand how the VFW could consider this a good deal for their members.

That "plan components are subject to change without notice" strikes me as having a potential for consumer fraud. If one buys a funeral plan now, can the company later offer a chipboard casket for the "wood" instead of "poplar"?

I am not sure what, if any, federal regulations there are regarding cancellation or default disclosures for insurance purchases, but nothing in the paperwork indicates what would happen if a family couldn't keep up the payments on a time-payment plan.

I am concerned that consumers will not be well-served by this promotion and would appreciate your feedback.

Sincerely,
Lisa Carlson
Executive Director
Funeral Consumers Alliance

cc: SCI
  VFW


 


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