This funeral home in Mason is the defendant in a consumer protection lawsuit filed last month the state Attorney General's Office. (Photo by Lawrence Smith)
POINT PLEASANT - A Mason County funeral home is accused of repeated violations of state law dealing with pre-need funeral agreements.
The state Attorney General's Office on Jan. 26 filed suit in Mason Circuit Court against Mr. Blue Inc., and its president, Jerry W. Tucker. Mr. Blue operates under the name of Foglesong-Tucker Funeral Home in Mason.
According to its complaint the AG's office alleges Foglesong-Tucker on and off for the last four years has not only at times sold funeral services without a license, but also failed to account for funds used to purchase those services.
In its suit, the AG alleges Foglesong-Tucker obtained the necessary license to sell pre-need funeral agreements in 2002. Pre-need funeral agreements allow a person to purchase funeral services for oneself or someone else in a lump-sum or installment payments in advance of death.
As a condition of selling pre-need funeral agreements, the license holder must submit a report within 10 days of sale plus a $20 fee to the AG's Pre-Need Funeral Services Division, deposit all funds into a trust account or insurance policy and submit a biennial report on the status of all contracts and the money available in each. Also, license holders must renew their certificates every year by June 30 with an accompanying $200 fee.
In May 2006, the Division requested all license holders to submit their renewal 14 days ahead of the deadline. According to the suit, Foglesong-Tucker did not submit their renewal and fee until July 19.
During the next two days, the Division conducted an audit in which it found Foglesong-Tucker to have not only sold 22 contracts to customers without submitting a copy to the Division, but also failed to account withdrawing funds belonging to 72 customers.
In April 2007, Foglesong-Tucker signed an agreement with the Division it would henceforth comply with all pre-need funeral regulations.
However, in 2008 and 2009, Foglesong-Tucker, again, failed to submit its renewal within 14 days ahead of the June 30 deadline. Though they renewed their license in 2008 on July 10, records show Foglesong-Tucker has yet to renew its license for 2009.
Following another audit conducted on Sept. 3, the Division found numerous problems in the way Foglesong-Tucker handled pre-need funeral agreements.
This time, records show, they sold nine pre-need contracts without submitting the corresponding report. Of those nine, two were sold during the time Foglesong-Tucker's license had lapsed.
Also, the Division alleges Foglesong-Tucker could not account for funds belonging to 18 customers. Of the 18, one customer's account was withdrawn during the unlicensed period.
During the next two months, the Division contacted Foglesong-Tucker repeatedly through the telephone, and the mail asking they correct the problems. On Nov. 30, the Division alleges it received information pertaining to the two contracts sold during the unlicensed period.
According to its suit, the Division alleges the contracts were signed by Beatrice Russell and June Skeens on Nov. 25 and 27, respectfully. However, the Division alleges the contracts "bore consumer signatures with remarkably similar handwriting, and related to transactions which the audit revealed had taken place long before November 2009 dates shown on the contracts."
In the information submitted to the Division, Foglesong-Tucker said $4,903.46, and $8,947.50 was deposited in City National Bank under Russell and Skeen's names, respectfully. However, a representative of City said he found no records of any deposits made by Foglesong-Tucker on either Russell or Skeen's behalf, and, when contacted, the women told the Division they never signed the documents submitted by Foglesong-Tucker.
In its suit, the AG' office accuses Foglesong-Tucker of nine violations of deceptive or unfair trade practices. Among them are misappropriation of Russell's and Skeen's pre-need funds, failure to renew their certificate and failure to maintain accurate records.
The AG's office is asking for not only a court order temporarily restraining Foglesong-Tucker from selling any pre-need agreements, but also a order barring them from selling any ever again. The AG's office also seeks the court's intervention in requiring Foglesong-Tucker to turn over all requested documents regarding pre-need funeral contracts.
Along with $5,000 in fines for each violation of state law, the AG's office seeks court costs, attorney's fees and interest. It is represented by Christopher Hedges, an assistant attorney general in the consumer protection division.
The case is assigned to Judge David W. Nibert.
Mason Circuit Court, case number 10-C-9