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I-Team 10 Consumer Alert: Casket conspiracy

Posted at: 03/19/2013 4:27 PM
Updated at: 03/19/2013 5:46 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

A con-man targets veterans who prepaid for their funeral expenses. He sold them caskets, but ultimately failed to deliver them when the time came.

Most people would rather not think about funerals, whether it be their own or that of a loved one. But knowing about funeral scams can save you and your family from added heartache especially when you might already be in emotionally vulnerable.

Clarence Corter thought he put his funeral worries to rest after buying a casket from a company called Celestial Burials. The 30-year veteran found the ad for the casket in the VFW magazine.
 
Betty Corter, fraud victim, said, “We ordered a casket with an Air Force insignia on it, and then we ordered one for me too because they were less expensive."
 
Several years later, Clarence passed away, so Betty Corter called Celestial Burials.
 
Corter said, "We called the funeral home to let them know the casket would be shipped to them in 24 hours."
 
But that didn't happen. When Betty’s family arrived at the funeral home, they were shocked by what they saw.
 
Corter said, "We were going to the viewing, when we got the funeral home, he was lying on a table."
 
Betty and her children had to immediately pay an additional and unexpected $3,500 dollars for a casket. Some families can't afford to buy a casket on the spot and some funeral homes agree to front services but risk never being paid back. Funeral directors say it pays to do some research.
 
Joseph Lapinski, funeral director: "With the advent of the technology we have today, the internet and word of mouth, has anybody else done business with these people are they people of their word. That is the crux of any business."
 
Postal inspectors say the Corter family is among almost 5,000 victims who lost more than $2.4 million dollars to the scheme. Sadly, many were World War II veterans.
 
Don Rood, U.S. Postal inspector, said, "At the sentencing, the judge said there was no doubt in his mind that given the opportunity the suspect would do it all over again."

Joseph Stabile, the owner of Celestial Burials, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud charges and was sentenced to six years in federal prison.

Buying funeral items on-line is becoming more and more common, but the same warnings apply for any big ticket item you might be purchasing over the internet. Do your research and check out the company you're dealing with to make sure they are reputable.