UNIONTOWN,PA (January 22, 2018)— Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced charges against a Fayette County funeral home director for stealing $284,393 from his clients -- senior citizens who had pre-paid for their own funerals.
Shapiro announced the charges at a news conference at the Fayette County Courthouse in Uniontown with District Attorney Rich Bower, whose office investigated the case with the Office of Attorney General.
From October 2010 until March 2017, Stephen E. Kezmarsky III, 50, of South Pennsylvania Avenue, Uniontown, collected advance payments from 51 clients to cover their eventual funeral expenses at the Kezmarsky Funeral Home. Instead of placing the money in escrow accounts as required under Pennsylvania law, Kezmarsky co-mingled the funds with his business and personal accounts and misappropriated his clients’ money.
“This defendant betrayed dozens of seniors who placed their trust in him,” Attorney General Shapiro said at the news conference, where he was joined by District Attorney Bower and scam victims. “Many of the victims in this case live on fixed incomes and set aside this money so their funerals wouldn’t be a burden on their loved ones. Instead, their funds were stolen, and we’re here today to hold the person responsible accountable.”
Kezmarsky used client funds for funeral home business expenses – and for personal use as well. Kezmarsky spent some of the funds at local restaurants and gas stations, on airline flights, and at Pennsylvania liquor stores.
In addition to stealing his clients’ pre-paid funeral funds, Kezmarsky filled out applications for funeral insurance policies for clients – but never sent the money or applications to an insurance company for processing.
Kezmarsky and the funeral home filed for bankruptcy last year and the funeral home was sold on April 28, 2017.
District Attorney Bower thanked Attorney General Shapiro for the coordination between their offices - essential in ferreting out complex financial crimes.
“The joint effort of Attorney General Josh Shapiro and I to right an injustice against the elderly in Fayette County was one both of us strongly believe in,” said District Attorney Bower. “The Attorney General stepped up and offered his office’s assistance in a complicated case that has resulted in the arrest of an individual who preyed on the elderly.”
Kezmarsky is charged with 84 felony counts of theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, forgery and insurance fraud. He was arrested today and will be arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Michael M. Metros. Senior Deputy Attorney General Dennis Kistler and District Attorney Bower will co-prosecute the case.
Attorney General Shapiro said investigators believe there may be other victims, and he urged people to contact his office or District Attorney Bower.
“If you or a loved one was victimized by this funeral home, I want to hear from you,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Call my Insurance Fraud investigators or District Attorney Bower. We’ll pursue every lead we receive.” The Insurance Fraud number is 412-880-0129. The district attorney’s office is 724-430-1245.
Attorney General Shapiro and District Attorney Bower said this case highlights the need for more protections for the elderly against financial crimes and other kinds of scams.
“This case demonstrates the need to do more to fight the exploitation and scamming of our seniors,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Whether it’s telemarketers, home contractors or pre-paid funerals, we are vigilantly protecting seniors across the Commonwealth.”
Attorney General Shapiro and District Attorney Bower outlined a series of tips that seniors or any consumer should consider before planning any funeral.
- Make sure the funeral home director provides an itemized cost statement for all services, including advance payments for vendors, such as obituary notices in newspapers.
- When making any advance payment or pre-payment, request in writing where the pre-payment will be deposited and held in escrow.
- Anyone with a complaint should contact the State Board of Funeral Directors or the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555.
- Ask for references and check them, particularly with family and friends.
“We are focused on protecting Pennsylvania seniors every day,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “My office will hold anyone accountable who victimizes the elderly in Pennsylvania.”