Victims of funeral fraud scramble to pay for same funeral twice - KCTV5

Victims of funeral fraud scramble to pay for same funeral twice

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Toby Polley first angered taxpayers in 2015 when surveillance cameras at a Kansas City casino captured the elected official lighting a pipe to smoke methamphetamine inside his white hearse.  (Missouri Department of Corrections) Toby Polley first angered taxpayers in 2015 when surveillance cameras at a Kansas City casino captured the elected official lighting a pipe to smoke methamphetamine inside his white hearse.  (Missouri Department of Corrections)
EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, MO (KCTV) -

A former Ray County coroner is serving a prison sentence for stealing from elderly people who trusted him with their money for prepaid funerals.

Toby Polley first angered taxpayers in 2015 when surveillance cameras at a Kansas City casino captured the elected official lighting a pipe to smoke methamphetamine inside his white hearse. 

The security cameras zoomed in and recorded clear video of the crime that was committed inside a hearse Polley used to transport deceased customers. 

At the time inside a police interview room, a Riverside officer told Polley what those cameras caught.

"Man their cameras are good,” Polley said to the officer while laughing.

During his video recorded interview, Polley admitted to using the drug and he made another confession.

“I'm in debt a million dollars,” Polley said. “This is going to shoot me down.”

Shortly after his 2015 arrest in that case, Polley resigned from the coroner position and pleaded guilty. Investigators then discovered he defrauded more than 100 funeral home customers. He was charged in 2016 with five counts of financial exploitation of the elderly. 

The families of many of Polley’s victims in the funeral fraud case didn't know they had been ripped off until the time came to lay their loved one to rest. During the grieving process, they learned the money prepaid in advance to cover funeral costs was gone.

Customer Earl Hurshman had prepaid for his own funeral at one of Polley’s funeral homes before he knew Polley admitted to drug use or confessed to being in debt.

Hurshman wanted to make sure his kids weren’t burdened with any costs.

“A funeral can just about wipe a family out,” Hurshman said.

He found out Polley spent his money when he got a letter from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

“I think they ought to just put him away and throw the key away,” Hurshman said.

The grandfather wants Polley to know that he stole hard earned money from a retired welder who spends his savings on building dollhouses and fire stations for children in need. Hurshman thinks he’ll be forced to pay for his own funeral a second time. He'd rather use that money to buy more kits to build toys for children. 

“He doesn't have anything,” Hurshman said. “How is he going to come up with the money to pay all this back?”

This year, Polley pleaded guilty to financial exploitation of the elderly. According to court records, investigators believe he defrauded 112 funeral home customers including Donna TeSam.

“It's evil. What he did was evil,” TeSam said.

Her father, a WWII veteran, left her mother with a pension when he passed away. Her mother used the money to prepay for her own funeral. When TeSam’s mom needed the services she paid for, the money was gone.

“They had told us that she probably wouldn't last through the night so we were there,” TeSam said about her final moments with her mother. “She passed away early that morning." 

While grieving their loss, TeSam and her family had to scramble to pay for her mother’s funeral service a second time.

“You are bouncing from the one shock of losing your last parent and then you are hit with that,” TeSam said. “It is very painful. It was like a double whammy.”

Polley’s victims don’t think he’ll ever pay them back. The court ordered him to pay $373,773 in restitution.

“We joke about it,” TeSam said. “We talk about meeting each other for a candy bar after we get our restitution.”

Some financial experts do not recommend prepaying for a funeral. Funeral companies can change ownership or suddenly close their doors. If you decide you do want to prepay for a funeral, it’s important to make sure your money is there when you need it.

To protect your family, do your research before choosing a funeral home. Verify your money is going where it is supposed to go by asking for written verification from the insurance company or financial institution that your money has been appropriately deposited.

The Missouri Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division offers these tips for avoiding funeral and cemetery fraud:

  • Be an informed consumer. Take time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help make difficult decisions. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed general price lists over the telephone or in writing.
  • Educate yourself fully about caskets before you buy one, and understand that caskets are not required for direct cremations.
  • Understand the difference between funeral home basic fees for professional services and any fees for additional services. 
  • Carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing.
  • Make sure you understand all contract cancellation and refund terms, as well as your portability options for transferring your contract to other funeral homes.
  • Before you consider prepaying, make sure you are well informed. When you do make a plan for yourself, share your specific wishes with those close to you.
  • Once a pre-need purchase is made – be it in the form of a trust, a joint account or an insurance policy – consumers should verify that the instrument was actually purchased.  The sooner regulators are made aware that proceeds may not have been appropriately invested, the more likely it is that any problems can be addressed.
  • If you believe you are the victim of consumer fraud, you can file a complaint by calling 1-800-392-8222 or visiting www.ago.mo.gov/app/consumercomplaint.

The Kansas State Board of Mortuary Arts says you should verify that your money got to where it was suppose to go.

You should receive a written verification from either the insurance company or financial institution that your money has been appropriately deposited.

Whenever possible you should make your check out to the insurance company or financial institution. Financial institutions and insurance companies should send you appropriate verification within 7-30 days, as well as regular up-dates ranging from monthly to annually depending on the type of account you purchased.

Once the money has been properly deposited the only way a funeral home can withdraw it is after death occurs, and when appropriate documentation has been presented to the financial institution or insurance company.

The following is a checklist worth reviewing--especially if you are dealing with a sales person: 

  • Ask all salespersons to identify themselves, the company and/or funeral home they represent, and what services they are selling. Ask for a phone number and a business card.
  • Take notes, ask questions and possibly consider requesting permission to tape record your conversation
  • Read over all contracts carefully before signing. Have a trusted advisor, such as your minister, attorney, banker or accountant look over the documentation with you first.
  • Make certain anything promised orally is put in writing and attached to the contract-- including your right to change your mind and cancel the deal within three days.
  • Ask for explanation of anything you are not sure of, written in plain language that you understand.
  • Find out exactly what is covered. If you buy a casket, vault and cemetery lot, will you still require the services of a funeral director? Eliminate all doubts by asking for clarification of anything you do not completely understand!
  • Don't agree to make payment until you know the rate of interest and the total amount you will pay.
  • Find out the name of the financial institution or insurance company that is acting as the trustee of the plan. Ask if your funds are protected and transferable, or if there are additional fees or penalties to transfer the plan or to withdraw the money.
  • Keep a copy of any contract or insurance policy you sign in a safe place that your family knows about. For more information visit: ksbma.ks.gov/resources/publications/pre-planning-your-funeral-arrangements

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