By Ed Runyan
Three former owners of funeral homes in Girard and Niles each face possible jail sentences of 20 years for purportedly stealing thousands of dollars from customers at their businesses.
Robert J. McClurkin, 49, of South State Street, Girard; Patrick J. McClurkin, 47, of Abbey Street, Girard; and Robert P. McDermott Sr., 51, of Lincoln Avenue, Niles, dressed in suits and ties, looked out of place sitting with jail inmates Monday morning in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Each was secretly indicted last week on between 10 and 20 charges, including ones accusing them of selling prepaid funeral services to more than 50 customers and then pocketing the money instead of setting it aside for its later use, as required by law.
The charges included engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft from an elderly or disabled person and a variety of other fraud and theft offenses.
Their secret indictments, unsealed after each man turned himself in Monday to be arraigned, accused the two funeral homes of stealing more than $150,000 from their customers, but total funds stolen have been estimated as high as $400,000.
Each man took a turn pleading innocent before Judge Peter Kontos. Bond was set at $100,000 for each, and all three were led away later in handcuffs. Robert J. McClurkin and McDermott later posted bonds and were released. Patrick McClurkin remained in jail Monday night.
The McClurkins were owners of McClurkin Funeral Home in Girard, and McDermott was owner of Robert P. McDermott Memorial Home in Niles. Officials prosecuted the cases together, though there has been no stated link between the two funeral homes.
Problems with the way they were handling prepaid funeral arrangements came to light in August when the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors carried out a search warrant on the McDermott funeral home, seizing computers, records and cremated remains for about 42 people.
The remains were seized because of concerns that some had not been properly marked for identification purposes. After an investigation by the Niles Police Department, several sets of the remains still were not identifiable, but police said they had determined that such handling was not illegal.
The Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors initiated the investigation based on information it received, Niles police said.
Robert J. McClurkin faces 20 charges, including grand theft, theft, five counts of tampering with records, five counts of forgery and six counts of violating laws relating to prepaid funeral arrangements.
One of his charges accuses him of stealing between $1,000 and $7,500 from the city of Girard. Five counts of tampering with records accuse him of tampering with annual reports to the state from 2007 to 2011 regarding prepaid funeral contracts.
The indictments say he, the funeral home, his brother, Patrick J. McClurkin, and others conspired to offer prepaid funeral services to more than 50 customers dating back to February 1996 and failed to secure insurance policies or annuities or place the funds in trust for the customers.
Instead, they used the money for their own benefit, the indictment says.
Patrick McClurkin faces 10 charges — corruption, theft, grand theft, theft from an elderly person and six counts of violating laws relating to prepaid funeral arrangements.
McDermott faces 19 charges — all of the same ones as Robert McClurkin except the theft from the city of Girard. His offenses date back to February 2001, his indictment says.
Judge Kontos refused to reduce the $100,000 bond for any of the three despite pleas from their attorneys, saying the judge who will handle each case starting in two to three weeks can evaluate whether bond can be reduced.
Atty. Michael Scala, representing Robert McDermott, said his client’s charges involve “money alone,” and argued that $100,000 bond was “unreasonably high.”
Atty. Harry DiPietro said his client, Patrick McClurkin, is in bankruptcy and “has no resources to flee this jurisdiction or go anywhere else,” adding that he is “raising three children in his home in Girard.”
Robert J. McClurkin returns to court Dec. 18 before Judge W. Wyatt McKay; Patrick McClurkin returns to court Dec. 19; and McDermott returns to court Dec. 12.
The Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors revoked the licenses of McDermott and his funeral home in July. It suspended the licenses for the McClurkin funeral home and the two McClurkins in September. At the time, the board alleged theft of more than $400,000.