Georgia Case Sparks Reports of Funeral Industry Abuses; Incidents Nationwide Prompt Calls for Federal Oversight and Regulation

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 2002 | Go to article overview

Georgia Case Sparks Reports of Funeral Industry Abuses; Incidents Nationwide Prompt Calls for Federal Oversight and Regulation


Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The discovery last week of hundreds of unburied corpses near a Georgia crematory has sparked reports of abuses in the funeral industry elsewhere in the country and calls for federal oversight of all funeral vendors.

The incident in Georgia is the most recent in a series of bizarre occurrences:

*In Riverside, Calif., prosecutors have charged a crematory owner with removing parts from bodies intended for cremation and selling them to medical research institutions. Michael Francis Brown, 42, owner of Pacific Cremation Care, has pleaded not guilty to 156 felony counts of unlawful mutilation of human remains and embezzlement.

*In Hilo, Hawaii, the state Attorney General's Office is investigating accusations that Robert K. Diego, owner of Memorial Mortuary, buried bodies in body bags, rather than in caskets purchased by customers. Mr. Diego denies the charges. In recent weeks, investigators from the U.S. Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii have used metal detectors to scan 25 graves of persons buried by Memorial Mortuary, whose license to perform funeral and embalming services expired in 1995, an investigator for the Hawaii Attorney General's Office confirmed yesterday.

The investigator, Sterling Lau, said in an interview yesterday that two families who bought caskets from Memorial Mortuary say their loved ones were not in them when they decided to relocate their grave sites to a different cemetery some years later. "They said they found no caskets. One body was in a body bag. The other, relatives said, was on the bare earth," Mr. Lau said.

Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Funeral Consumer Alliance, based in Hinesburg, Vt., said she first learned of the complaints against Mr. Diego more than six months ago.

Mrs. Carlson said she receives about 350 complaints about the funeral industry over an 18-month period and concedes most are not as heinous as those recently reported in Georgia, Hawaii and California. Even so, she says, worst-case scenarios are not all that rare.

"There was a case last year in Hartford, Conn., where the operator of an unlicensed funeral home had bodies rotting in the basement" and a similar case four or five years ago in her own state of Vermont, she said. In both cases, the funeral directors spent burial fees for their own personal use.

Ray Brent Marsh, 28, operator of the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga. …

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