2 more plead guilty in prearranged funeral scam

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The owner of a now-defunct prearranged funerals company in suburban St. Louis pleaded guilty Wednesday to operating what authorities say was a giant Ponzi scheme that bilked customers out of as much as $600 million.

Clayton resident James Douglas Cassity, 67, who owned National Prearranged Funerals Inc., faces up to nine years and seven months in prison when he's sentenced Nov. 7 for fraud, money laundering and misappropriation of funds.

His 46-year-old son Brent Douglas Cassity, who was an officer of the company, pleaded guilty earlier Wednesday to mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. He will be sentenced the same day and faces up to five years in prison under his plea agreement.

Three other former employees await trial Aug. 5, while a fourth, Sharon Nekol Province, of Ballwin, pleaded guilty in June.

The Clayton company sold policies in several states from 1992 until 2008 under which customers typically paid a single sum of up to $10,000 to cover the cost of future funeral services and related expenses.

State and federal laws required the company to keep the customers' money in a secure trust or insurance policy. Federal prosecutors say money from as many as 150,000 customers was used to enrich the company's officers and others, and that new business provided the money needed to pay for funerals that previous customers had paid for in advance.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last month that defendants in the case had been offered plea deals requiring 5-10 years in prison in exchange for guilty pleas. Without the deals, they risk life sentences if convicted.

In explaining the plea deal effort, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan cited the high cost of trials that could last three months.


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