A grand jury has indicted the former owner of a Cheraw funeral home after state officials accused him of defrauding his customers.
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) and the Cheraw Police Department say they began receiving complaints in August 2011 from consumers after the Norton Funeral Home closed. The complaints concerned funds that were paid in advance to Norton Funeral Home for preneed burial contracts. “Preneed funerals” are trust funds that are set up to pay for funeral arrangements ahead of time.
SCDCA officials say the owner of the funeral home, Hubert Craig Norton, sold 33 preneed funeral contracts without a license and failed to put funds in a trust account. They say those customers did not get their money transferred or refunded when the funeral home closed last year. The grand jury indicted the former owner Monday on 106 counts of violating the Preneed Funeral Contracts law and breach of trust with fraudulent intent.
The Preneed Funeral Contracts Law dates back to the 1960s, with SCDCA taking over as the administrator and enforcer in 2006.
State legislators changed the law this year to make it a felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison if a customer loses more than $2,000. The changes were proposed in response to Norton’s actions. However, because Norton’s actions occurred last year, he is being prosecuted under the old law— a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine
This is the first case of its kind in South Carolina.
The Chesterfield County Fourth Circuit Solicitor’s office says it is prosecuting the case with assistance from SCDCA investigators and the Cheraw Police Department.
South Carolina Radio Network’s Tripp Girardeau contributed to this article.