By Steven Palmer, written for Nomis Publications August 2017 Edition
“When one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.” – Euripides, Orestes
Massachusetts citizens’ complaints of a Colorado based cremation provider helped put the final nails in their respective cremation containers.
On June 6, 2017, the Colorado Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration suspended the registration of Heritage Cremation Provider, LLC for failing to notify customers that it subcontracted its cremation services.
Heritage Cremation Provider, LLC and its affiliated company, Legacy Funeral Services, LLC, with an office in Colorado Springs, CO, is not a funeral home, nor is it a crematory. It is a website advertising low cost cremation services from $695-$1395. They give the appearance as a local firm. They state they are “family-owned and operated,” providing a “strictly confidential and certified cremation.” They find local funeral homes that will provide the removal from place of death and the cremation procedure. The problem is Heritage/Legacy is not licensed in the states they are advertising in.
The owners of Heritage Cremation Porivder have a pimply past. According to CBS4 in Miami, Joseph Damiano was “dubbed the Body Baron of Broward County.” In 2002, according to CBS4, he was arrested on charges he ran an “illegal crematorium.” Allegations and lawsuits came later for allegedly “supplying bodies without the family’s permission for embalming classes at Lynn University in Boca Raton.” His son, Anthony Joseph “AJ” or “Tony” Damiano, pleaded guilty, and was banned from the funeral business for ten years for “operating without a license.” When the ban ended they planned the Heritage/Legacy firms.
The Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado reports that Heritage Cremation Provider, LLC has received 1.07 out of 5 stars for a rating of F. They list 14 complaints on their site.
Several of the states they advertise in have taken direct action against Heritage/Legacy. Massachusetts has identified them as illegally operating in the Bay State. They passed along their citizens’ complaints to Colorado to assist in getting their registration suspended in the Centennial state. Georgia issued a “cease and desist” order against the firm as did many other states. Florida’s formal cease and desist order outlined their alleged presentation of “false and fraudulent documents” to licensed Florida funeral firms to perform their cremations. The order stated that Heritage implied that they were licensed and authorized to perform cremation services in Florida. Heritage would make the arrangements, contract with the family and accept payment for the cremations performed for families contacting their website.
Minnesota Department of Health investigated and ordered heritage to “cease providing licensed activities in Minnesota.” The Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association is investigating claims by its members, who performed cremations for Heritage, that they have not been paid. The Ohio Funeral Directors Association issued an alert, authored by NFDA General Counsel Scott Gilligan warning of dealing with Heritage. NFDA also issued Gilligan’s warning to its national membership.
North Carolina Board of Funeral Services filed an injunction against Heritage Cremation Provider, LLC. It warned its members that providing services for Heritage “would constitute aiding and abetting the unlicensed practices of funeral service.”
Oregon’s State Mortuary and Cemetery Board stated Heritage’s website’s claims “constitute a sales presentation or practice that conceals or misstates a material fact.” The punishment for such a violation is $10,000.
Yelp has posted many scathing reviews of the Heritage/Legacy firm. One Ohio family, in a lengthy grievance, presents this charge: “And if that is not enough for you – they REFUSED TO TELL ME WHERE MY DEAD GRANDMOTHER WAS BEING HELD. Yep – they refused to tell me the name of the local funeral home who picked up her body” (emphasis by the reviewer).
Other claims against the firm included delay in cremation. A Minnesota customer writes: “When I asked for the timing of the actual cremation of my loved one 3 days after death, they told me, ‘we had 150 units last week so we are running behind.’ It is day 29 and someone just called me back to check information on death certificate.” From a Woodridge, VA customer, “My father passed Monday, 10/19.” They returned the paperwork for cremation on Tuesday, 10/20. “So here it is WEDNESDAY planning for details of his celebration of life and we get a call from Heritage advising us that they “regret to inform us that they have found themselves in an overbooked situation and are now unable to pick up our father, leaving us high and dry with no freakin’ clue as to what to do.” He continues, “ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME!!!!!??????” (All emphasis by the reviewers.)
Overcharging from the original quote was another frequent complaint: A Fairfield, CA customer wrote: “This place broke my heart. My loved one died unexpectedly on a weekend. His next of kin are 2 children. I explained the situation and got a quote. Then I called 4 times a day until they emailed me the contract. It was 400 dollars plus more than the first quote. When I explained outrage they said, basically, it’s too bad.”
There is no question that funeral service has changed. There is no question that more and more families are seeking new solutions to their special person’s death. There is no question that final care providers must be innovative, ethical and embedded in their pursuit to assist every family from the shock of death to the first steps of recapturing a day without devastating grief.
We watch funeral service slide down the slippery slope. The quality practitioners of funeral service become afraid when the casketed calls become cremation cases. They lower their price, or discount their price, to meet the low cost usurper who appears on their horizon.
I practice funeral service. I service 82% cremation. There are other firms in my market share that are determined to take families away due to a lower price. If we fully acquiesce to their level are we really providing the care of healing that we were taught? Are we now so busy with low cost calls that any counsel to the family about veterans benefits, insurance claims, grief resources are forgotten due to the lower income and staff reductions?
Why did we enter funeral service? If it was to fulfill what Heritage Cremation Provider had hoped for, then it is not funeral service, it is commodity disposition. This problem is ours to solve; remain true to your calling. It is truly better to have fewer calls, letting the price shoppers find the foils, but to maintain your integrity, and your income, as the funeral director you want to be. Eventually, the public will discover the difference.
“Trust me, of all people, I understand a situation where you need to count pennies, but this sh_t ain’t worth it. Please save yourself the heartache and protect your dignity…spend a couple of extra hundred to do it right and with people who really do care.” –Anne M., Woodbridge, VA on Yelp
Steven Palmer entered funeral service in 1971. H is an honors graduate of the New England Institute of Applied Arts & Sciences. He has been licensed on both coasts, he owns the Westcott Funeral Homes of Cottonwood and Camp Verde, AZ. Steve offers his observations on current funeral service issues. He may be reached by mail at PO Box 352, Cottonwood, AZ 86326, by phone at (928)634-9566, by fax at (928)634-5156, by e-mail at email@example.com or through his website at www.westcottfuneralhome.com or on Facebook.