WHEELING – State Attorney General Darrell McGraw recently received authority to continue his case against a bankrupt funeral home.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Stamp wrote July 3 that McGraw has the authority to go forward with allegations that Iams Funeral Home violated the state's Preneed Funeral Contracts Act, even though owner John Iams II declared bankruptcy two days after McGraw's Wetzel County Circuit Court action was filed.
Iams is represented by Morgantown attorney Hiram Lewis, whom McGraw defeated in 2004 in the closest Attorney General's race in history.
"The decision allows the Consumer Protection Division of my office to uphold its statutory responsibility to enforce the Preneed Funeral Contracts Act and protect consumers," McGraw said.
Flatley's opinion affirmed a decision made by Bankruptcy Court Judge Patrick Flatley. The trial judge had already ruled that "the State may proceed with its action against Iams only to the extent that it seeks a non-monetary judgment," Flatley wrote.
McGraw was seeking to put a stop to Iams' selling of preneed funeral contracts. Lewis has said Iams hadn't sold one since Dec. 2005.
During the 2004 election, both McGraw and Lewis received 50 percent of the vote, with the Democrat McGraw grabbing 5,307 more of the nearly 703,000 votes.
A fair amount of mutual hostility was displayed during the campaign. McGraw would not sit next to Lewis or respond to his questions during a meeting with the Charleston Gazette's editorial board, and Lewis publicly debated a man in a chicken suit because McGraw refused to participate.
During a hearing in the Iams case, McGraw stated in a press release that things became so heated that the trial judge ordered Lewis to the regional jail, but relented when Lewis agreed to take it easy.
Filed Oct. 24, the suit against Iams alleges that he misappropriated money consumers had given him for preneed funeral contracts, that he did not file required documentation with the Attorney General's Preneed Funeral Contracts Division and that he was operating without a business license.
McGraw has audited Iams Funeral Home twice, each time discovering Iams had taken customers' money that was supposed to be placed into trust accounts in the customers' money and put it in the funeral home's account.
The suit was filed after Iams did not renew his Certificate of Authority and his employee's license to sell preneed funeral services.
Lewis again attempted to run against McGraw this year, but was defeated in the primary election by Charleston attorney Dan Greear.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.