Last defendant in Mo. funeral fraud case convicted

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A complicated federal case alleging that operators of a prearranged funeral company defrauded customers out of hundreds of millions of dollars has come to a close after the sixth and final defendant was convicted.

David R. Wulf, 60, of St. Louis County, was found guilty Thursday after a 13-day trial in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. Wulf will join five other former colleagues from now-defunct National Prearranged Funerals Inc. at a sentencing on Nov. 7.

Wulf’s case was the only one that went to trial. The others — company founder James D. Cassity, his son, Brent D. Cassity, Howard A. Wittner, Randall K. Sutton and Sharon Nekol Province — all pleaded guilty earlier this year. Prosecutors had sought plea deals, citing the complexity and potential cost of the case.

Wulf’s attorney, Ethan Corlija, said a decision on whether to appeal hasn’t been reached. He called the verdict “disappointing.”

“From the outset we felt the facts were in our favor,” Corlija said.

The suburban St. Louis-based company sold funeral plans in advance with the promise that the buyers’ money would be kept safe until the time of need. Customers typically paid a single sum of up to $10,000 to cover the cost of future funeral services and related expenses. The company had around 150,000 customers from across the country.

Federal prosecutors said the company used a Ponzi-like scheme in which customers’ money was used to enrich the company’s officers and others, and new business funded funerals that previous customers had paid for in advance.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in St. Louis called it one of the largest cases of fraud ever prosecuted in eastern Missouri.

Wulf had been an investment adviser to funeral trusts established by National Prearranged Funerals Inc. since the 1980s. He was responsible for investing, managing and protecting the trusts’ assets, prosecutors said.

Those assets included more than $150 million paid by customers — money that prosecutors said should have increased in value to $450 million to $600 million by the time the buyers’ funerals were needed. Because many of the customers have not yet died, the exact value of the fraud has not been determined.

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