CHARLESTON – Attorney General Darrell McGraw has filed a suit against Elk Funeral Home and its owner in Kanawha Circuit Court alleging that the funeral home director misappropriated funds belonging to at least 16 consumers who paid in advance for funeral arrangements.
Elk Funeral Home is owned by Bill Surratt.
West Virginia law requires funeral providers to deposit all payments for pre-need funeral contracts into special accounts for safe keeping until the consumer's time of need and immediately report the purchase to the attorney general's office.
McGraw initiated an investigation in February after a consumer called the Consumer Protection Hotline regarding her mother's pre-need contract.
Assistant Attorney General Chris Hedges said the attorney general's office began a detailed investigation after the consumer reported the funeral home's actions.
"Surratt did not provide us with much information," Hedges said. "His records were incomplete and badly managed, so we were forced to use significant off-site investigative means."
After confirming that Surratt had never reported her transaction to the state, McGraw's office discovered that Surratt had simply spent the consumer's money instead of depositing it in a special trust account as required by law.
McGraw's investigation then revealed 15 additional consumers whose funds were never deposited in special accounts by Surratt.
Instead, the funeral director had spent their pre-need contract money on other, unknown purposes. Currently, at least $61,990 is missing.
Hedges said since the investigation, more consumers have called the attorney general's office regarding their own pre-need contracts with the funeral home.
"The trust we place in others to safeguard our pre-need funds must not be in vain," McGraw said. "My office will vigorously pursue anyone who violates that trust."
McGraw is seeking to ban Surratt and Elk Funeral Home from accepting pre-payments from consumers for funeral purchases forever and to seize more than $189,900 in pre-need contract funds currently under the defendants' control.
He is also seeking restitution for consumers who were harmed by the defendants' conduct, civil penalties, punitive damages and interest on all judgments.