DOJ suing funeral companies with local ties for misleading customers and holding remains hostage

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The Department of Justice is suing a funeral company with local ties on behalf of the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly misleading customers about their location and prices and holding remains hostage to receive more payment, according to a release from the FTC.

Funeral & Cremation Group of North America LLC, Legacy Cremation Services LLC, Heritage Cremation Provider, and their Florida-based owner, Anthony Joseph Damiano, are being sued for misrepresenting their location and prices, illegally threatening and failing to return remains to customers, and failing to provide disclosures required by the FTC’s Funeral Rule.

The FTC is asking the court to sanction Damiano and the companies for violations against both the FTC Act and the Funeral Rule.

“Preying on consumers when they are dealing with the loss of a loved one is outrageous, and it’s illegal,” said Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The complaint states that the companies falsely claimed to be local providers on their websites and during phone calls with customers when in reality, the companies just attempt to arrange for services by third-party funeral providers that are unaffiliated with them.

The complaint says in some instances, the companies can’t find a local funeral provider and instead find services in other locations that are at times up to two hours away, without telling the customer. Customers are later forced to travel for viewings or to pick up their loved one’s remains or have them shipped to them.

Damiano and his companies allegedly held or threatened to hold the remains hostage or information about the location of the ashes to customers who refused to pay the fees and higher prices that they were not originally aware of.

This was exactly what happened to a woman in Rock Hill, whom Action 9 talked to in 2019.

Rita Cummins lost her husband in a motorcycle crash and found services from Heritage Cremation, one of Damiano’s companies.

Cummins thought the company was local, but the company was based in Colorado Springs, Colorado with an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Cummins received a bill that was $500 higher than the quote she was given on the phone.

Cummins’ husband’s remains were not picked up when they were supposed to either.

At the time, Channel 9 found out that Heritage Cremation was accepting clients without a license to provide funeral services.

Months later, Damiano and his son Joseph were sentenced to three days in prison and probation for doing business without proper credentials.

The Funeral Rule gives customers rights when making funeral arrangements. The Rule, issued in 1984, requires funeral homes to provide customers with price lists at the start of any in-person discussions about funeral arrangements, caskets, and outer burial containers. It also requires the funeral homes to provide that same information by telephone by request and bans funeral homes from requiring customers to buy any item, like a casket or container, as a condition of receiving any other service.

The complaint claims Damiano and his companies clearly violated the rule.

The potential penalty is up to $46,517 for each violation.

The Department of Justice filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, where Damiano lives.

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