MANISTEE, MI – A Manistee funeral home owner is being charged after his alleged usage of money from his clients’ prepaid funeral contracts for business and personal use was charged and arraigned Wednesday on four felony counts of Failing to Escrow Prepaid Funeral Contract Funds.
Denis Robert Johnson, 69-years-old, of Manistee, was the owner and licensed funeral director at Johnson Funeral Home, where he was also licensed to sell prepaid funeral contracts.
Johnson’s charges follow the sentencing this week of Flint-based Swanson Funeral Home owner O’Neil Swanson II. Swanson was charged with similar crimes.
After receiving a complaint from one of Johnson’s clients alleging that he failed to escrow her prepaid funeral contract funds, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) conducted a financial audit of the funeral home. The audit revealed that 75 prepaid contracts, totaling $223,118, were not properly escrowed. LARA revoked Johnson’s license as a result of its findings and referred the case to the Michigan Department of Attorney General for further investigation.
A single count of Failing to Escrow Prepaid Funeral Contract Funds is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
“Selling prepaid funeral contracts only to pocket the money for business and personal use is illegal and unconscionable,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “Thanks to our department’s continued partnership with LARA, we can hold businesses accountable when they lie, cheat and steal from our residents.”
“Michigan residents trust the state’s funeral homes to follow the law and honor their contracts,” said LARA Director Orlene Hawks. “We will continue to work closely with Attorney General Nessel and her team to protect consumers from bad actors who deceive the public.”
Nessel added that consumers purchasing prepaid funeral contracts should ask for proof or notification that the funds have been received by the escrow fund company itself. She also offered a series of measures consumers should take to protect themselves from prepaid funeral contract fraud in a consumer alert issued today following these charges and the sentencing of Swanson – all in the same week.
Johnson was given a $12,500 cash bond and a probable cause conference is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2.
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