A Kansas City, MO, funeral home operator faces charges that he stole money from consumers who paid up-front for funeral services in advance of their deaths.
Ronald C. Marts, owner and operator of Martron, LLC, doing business as Marts Memorial Services, is also charged with violating the Missouri Preneed Funeral Contract Act and with deceptive business practices.
The complaint, filed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, contends Marts took payments from consumers for preneed funeral contracts, but neglected to set up a trust account in which to deposit the funds.
The attorney general also said Marts failed to tell consumers that he was not licensed to sell preneed contracts, and falsely promised consumers that their contracts would be fulfilled by another entity if Marts could not.
The events outlined in the complaint allegedly took place between 2005 and 2011.
The complaint stems from an investigation in which Koster was appointed special prosecutor, working with the Jackson County, MO, Prosecutors Office. The result was a 10-count felony indictment.
The indictment alleges one count of stealing of property or services of $25,000 or more, a Class B Felony; four counts of violations of the Missouri Preneed Funeral Contract Act, a Class C Felony; and five counts of violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, a Class D Felony.
In Missouri, Preneed Funeral Contract violations are punishable by up to seven years in prison per count and Unlawful Merchandising Practices is punishable upon conviction by up to four years in prison per count.
Preneed funeral sales have increased in recent years as more consumers have decided to make their own arrangements to spare family members in a time of grief. Missouri and many other states have strengthened laws governing sales of preneed funerals to protect consumers.
How to protect yourself
When paying in advance for funeral services, you should receive a statement of funeral goods and services and prepaid agreement at the time of purchase. Many states requires these documents to be presented and signed at the same time.
Consumers should not accept any documents that have not been completely filled in and signed in their presence by the funeral directors.
Most states require that money entrusted with the funeral director must be deposited in an interest-bearing account or used to purchase a funeral insurance policy within a specified time after the agreement is signed.
In New Jersey, for example, the preneed funeral arrangements may be moved to any funeral home at any time by the consumer. Regardless of the options selected, the money paid to the funeral directors for preneed funerals belongs to the consumer and must be made available to the consumer upon request at any time.