This past March three members of the Zale family were charged with siphoning money out of their Moorestown, NJ funeral home. Over the past few years we have seen many instances of prepaid funeral scams being exposed. This article is going to share the story of another family from New Jersey who had a similar experience with a different home elsewhere in the state. These individuals were managing a funeral home for a third party whom they shorted a hefty sum of money which they were charged criminally for with theft by deception. If the people who take the money for these prepaid funerals didnt close their businesses and spend the money, likely they would be viewed differently publicly. Sadly the case is all too different, and most of these people will hurt very many people before they are held accountable.
Similarly in Missouri 5 individuals were arrested for running a ponzi scheme across 16 states where they victimized 97,000 people with the prepaid funeral. Most people don’t want to think much about these things and it is quite easy to trick someone in situations like these. The end result leaves the family unable to afford funeral costs and it can be crippling to the surviving family members. According to the Federal Trade Commission, millions still take the risk in these types of offers. It has come to light that a funeral home in Gloucester City, NJ has been involved in a similar scheme. From a source that wishes to remain anonymous for the time being, their Grandmother lost it all as a result of prepaying a funeral at this location. The end result was a funeral that the family couldn’t afford, and losing their relatives home.
It may be a bit hard to currently assert exactly what went on on the end of the funeral home. The way it happened in Missouri was the two parties accepted a price and money was held by a third party. The problem was the documents were changed and it didn’t all end up there. What is known at this time is that one family prepaid a funeral at this location with a Frank Roman as the agent on contract. When the time came, the business had since closed down and the families money was gone. The business Harris Romano Funeral Home states directly on their website that they still offer prepaid funerals, and does not state that they offer an irrevocable option in accordance with the NJ Choices program described at the end of this article.
The New Jersey State Board of Mortuary Science minutes from both 2006 and 2008 reveal a fine imposed on this company for violating N.J.A.C. 13:36 – 1.9, 5.5 9.7, 9.6, 9.5 in the original amount of $2,400. These sections that were violated in this incident are categorized as Casket Price List, Outer Burial Container Price List, The Preparation Room Requirements, and Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected. Upon reading what these violations could entail it would begin with not providing customers proper statements of what they’ve purchased, and the retailer is not providing price list and options properly as law requires. These minutes do not provide details as to how they arrived in the Open Disciplinary Action section, but noted reducing the fine from $2,400 to $1,000 due to financial hardship. In 2007 the minutes note that they still paid the $2,400 and noted ‘for the boards information only’. In 2008 they are up fore fines again, N.J.A.C. 13:35 5.14 and 11.19. Section 5.14 is entitled discontinuation of business or bankruptcy, and requires they surrender mortuary certificate to board, remove signs, stop advertising, and present a ledger to the board. #5 REQUIRES THEY NOTIFY ALL PRENEED PURCHASERS OF CLOSING PURSUANT TO SECTION 11.19. They are required to prove they have notified said customers, which it is clear they still have not. Section 11.19 is entitled notice of dissolution or bankruptcy. This directly requires a funeral home to notify all purchasers of prepaid arrangements prior to dissolving business and can occur no later that 5 days prior to business closing. It would seem that this business was fined for not properly notifying customers that they had closed, and previously been fined for clerical type issues. It was at this time only a $100 fine was issued…knowing Frank Romano’s history in the governance of a nearby borough this makes more sense. At the time he paid this $100 he is documented in these minutes of public record as being. Romano was also the mayor of another nearby borough around 2000 named Maple Shade.
Harris Romano does not appear to have its own website currently, which makes sense seeing as how 10 years ago it was in hot water for improperly handling its closing. It can be seen on a website called iMortuary where they still list Harris Romano as an open business. The New Jersey Tax Assessor lists the address from iMortuary (523 Cumberland St.) as owned by Brian W. Donnelly, and before that it was Alloway/Donnelly Funeral home 2010-2013. The first assessment on record is in 2009 when David Hartzell appears to have purchased the business from Francis Romano. The odd thing, this property appears to have ditched the name Harris Romano in 2008 yet still is advertising online somehow through this third party. In looking on the site NJ Parcels, it showed that David Hartzell bought the property from Francis Romano in 2006, and quite an odd pattern of sales that included a sheriffs office at one point. The phone number they list for Harris Romano is actually the number for Brian W. Donnelly.
iMortuary is a free directory as its website states, hoping to link people in with resources for what they need in end of life care. One can only wonder why these errors exist on this page so long after the changes occurred, and why the actual business owner hasn’t said anything to them. The same website doesn’t list a Donnelly Funeral home at all in that city, is it possible this person is fielding business through this site as the late Harris Romano only to pocket the money? Its a very good question, and could explain some of the discrepancies, but admittedly my suspicion does not mean this is exactly what happened. Brian Donnelly does have his own website and appears to be a real business in the area, but for some odd reason the same funeral home that was sold in 2006, fined in 2008, exists still on one website online and links to this persons contact info.
Frank Romano, previous owner of this Funeral home also used to sit on the Borough Council of Audubon Park, NJ. The Borough has a Mayor, and six board members who oversee the city and are voted in by citizens. The Borough has come under the spotlight recently for a massive scandal regarding housing that resulted in a suicide that some believe may have happened differently than the main narrative. A forensic accounting team has begun to go through the books of Audubon Mutual Housing Corporation, a Trustee that manages 500 properties in this borough. It came to light that over $500,000 was missing from the company, and the manager Amy Heisler had been fired and took her own life. Those who were close to her could tell something was going on, but suicide was entirely out of character for this individual.
Currently Larry Pennok serves as the mayor of the borough, and was mayor at the time Frank Romano was on the board. According to a website created by him at the time the two served together, this same city council oversaw the laws, police, library, JRK building, public safety, streets and parking, trash, hockey rink, “tot lot”, fire department, and schools. We saw in 2017 an arrest come out of the Audubon Park Fire Department for child pornography. Upon looking into all of these boroughs, one thing is similar…they’re up to their neck in corruption. In a nearby borough Camden, their mayor was arrested on 19 charges of corruption, money laundering, fraud, and accepting bribes. This same borough is in the process of paying out $3.5 million dollars to the 88 people who were wrongly arrested and worse as a result of how shady their police force had gotten; 185 cases were tossed out too.
The issues seem to be widespread throughout the state. The new DA has created an entire office to deal with the corruption throughout all bodies in the state. It would appear a lot of these guys get into power over these boroughs and bounce around positions, all the while raking in money from many places as they control the whole city. Between bribes to look the other way, and more serious crimes many public officials are starting to be faced with their wrong doings. It would appear there is still far more to uncover here, and hopefully soon as who knows how many think their funeral is paid for when its truly not. The number of things that have been allowed to happen in this area could only happen with friends in high places.
Many states have requirements as to the assets one can hold to be entitled to Medicaid, and thats just one of the reasons people sign up for prepaid funerals. New Jersey now has a Prepaid Funeral Trust because in the cases the fund is not labelled as irrevocable, it can be taken from you. This program Choices as explained on Elder Care Lawyer, aims to provide this service so clients can utilize Medicaid but also guarantee the funds availability when its needed. The website for this program notes that it is still a prepaid funeral arrangement, but both irrevocable and utilizing a trust fund that has public transparency. The McCann Healey funeral home in Gloucester city will be working with the family raising attention to Frank Romano’s prepaid funeral scam. They will be striving to do so on a charity basis to put some good back into the community. McCann Healey currently has possession of the deceased, and is doing everything they can to help the family. Seeking out every avenue to help with charity, medicaid, and to be able to perform the funeral for this family at lowest cost possible. As they put it, it’s truly unreal to see someone try this hard to help after living through a nightmare like this. These times in life are hard enough as it is, and McCann Healey really stepped up to the plate when it counted.
– Adam Rice