• 9 Investigates: Cremation business banned in North Carolina, other states

    By: Greg Suskin

    Updated:

    ROCK HILL, S.C. - Rita, who didn't want her last name used for this story, lost her husband of 15 years on Sept. 1.

    “His motorcycle and a car, kinda ran into each other," Rita said.

    Wayne Cummins, 70, was killed in a motorcycle crash on Highway 21 outside Rock Hill. Talking to her now, it's all still very close to her.

    [ALSO READ: Funeral home owner faces criminal charges after cremation mix-up]

    "The shock, the grief, the hurt -- ya know you're kind lost," Rita said.

    Cummins was a decorated Vietnam veteran who loved to educate others as a war re-enactor.  He had uniforms for nearly any battle.

    It was his wish to be cremated, and Rita found Heritage Cremation, also known as Legacy Funeral Services, online. She checked out their website and made a call. They appeared to be caring, experienced, and most important to her, local.

    In fact, the company is in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Channel 9 found they have an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. The rating is related to failing to respond to complaints, government actions against them, advertising issues, lack of transparency with customers and no license.

    The government action mentioned involves seven states, including North Carolina, that have placed an injunction against Heritage, banning the company from doing any business there.

    The over the phone quote for cremation given to Rita wasn't what Channel 9 found in the contract she got in the mail. Prices were not only higher, but higher than what the state or county charges for these services. 

    [ALSO READ: Body awaiting cremation found 3 years later at funeral home]

    It ended up being close to $1,600.   Her original quote by phone was $1,100.

    The pricing issues weren't the only concern for Rita.  Four days after his death, no one had picked up her husband's body to be cremated.  Heritage said they had someone en-route.

    "He was just laying there like nobody cares," Rita said.

    Heritage Cremation Service doesn't actually deal with any remains.  The company acts as a middleman and contacts a local funeral home to work with them.

    [ALSO READ: Funeral home sued after woman's body found years after death]

    In North Carolina, they're not even allowed to do that.

    Stephen Davis leads the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service in Raleigh.  

    "The board filed legal action against them," Davis said.  

    Channel 9 found that injunction filed against Heritage, or Legacy in 2016, because they were accepting clients in North Carolina without a license.

    Only months later, father and son owners Joseph and Anthony Damiano were sentenced to three days in prison suspended to probation for violating the injunction and doing business anyway. 

    Davis had this warning to all 900 funeral homes in the state.

    "Doing business with this particular company would constitute aiding and abetting unlicensed practice. So, they're on notice," Davis said. 

    South Carolina hasn't taken legal action, but the State Board of Funeral Service did send a letter to all funeral homes in 2016 warning them not to do business with unlicensed providers, or face discipline. 

    [ALSO READ: 9 Investigates: Funeral home shut down after losing bodies]

    Beyond that, the National Funeral Directors Association weighed in in an online newsletter, alerting its members that seven states have filed legal action against Heritage Cremation Service.

    Channel 9 reached out to Heritage Cremation owner Anthony Diamani on the phone in Colorado. 

    We wanted to ask him about the complaints, their BBB rating and the charges filed against him.  He said no comment and told Channel 9 we could report whatever we wanted to.  He didn't care.

    After her initial call to Heritage and a $1,600 charge on her credit card, Rita couldn't reach them anymore.  She called for several days, trying to find out when her beloved husband would be cremated.

    [ALSO READ: 9 Investigates: Funeral homes criticized over pricing, transparency]

    "From the first of September to the 15th, they had done nothing," Rita said.

    Rita said no one at Heritage answered the phone until she decided to use a friend's phone to call.  She had to contact another friend who was a lawyer to pressure Heritage to refund her money. They did about a week later. 

    She said dealing with this on top of the sudden loss of her husband was too much to bear.

    “They break your heart on top of it already being broken," Rita said.

    [ALSO READ: Mother says slain 3-year-old daughter cremated without her knowledge]

    Rita found a local funeral home in Rock Hill that charged her $600 less, treated her with respect and her husband with dignity.

    Heritage Cremation, or Legacy Funeral Services is not licensed in the Carolinas.  Even though South Carolina has not placed an injunction on the company, any funeral home or crematorium that does business with them can be fined.

    The Better Business Bureau has maintained its "F" rating of the company, saying it has not corrected any of the issues that led to numerous complaints.

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