April 3, 2006
Mexico, Mo. — The former operator of a Vandalia funeral home pleaded guilty today to six criminal counts for misusing money paid by clients for pre-need funeral expenses. Donald Holt (1/13/60), who operated Holt Funeral Home, admitted he failed to place the money in accounts that would be available to pay for the funerals of the purchasers at the time of their deaths but instead used the money for business and personal expenditures.
Attorney General Jay Nixon filed criminal charges against Holt last August as part of "Operation Grave Concerns," a crackdown on fraud in the bereavement industry. Nixon said Holt's conviction sends a strong signal that those who take advantage of Missouri families in this way will be held accountable.
"Individuals and families purchase pre-need funeral plans so they have peace of mind that their wishes regarding their funerals will be carried out and be taken care of financially," Nixon said. "We won't tolerate abuse of that trust."
Under the terms of a plea agreement filed in Audrain County Circuit Court, the Attorney General's Office is seeking to obtain $127,484 in restitution for consumers who paid for pre-need plans. Holt would pay the restitution prior to his sentencing, which is scheduled for July 3. If he fails to pay the money, the State can recommend that Holt be sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.
If the restitution is paid, prosecutors will recommend that Holt be given an eight-year suspended sentence; that he be placed on probation for five years; that he be required to perform 200 hours of community service; and that he be prohibited from engaging in the funeral business as an owner, operator, seller, provider or trustee.
The State of Missouri has already revoked Holt's funeral director and embalmer licenses. Holt Funeral Home is currently closed, and its license has not been renewed.
Other legal action Nixon took as part of "Operation Grave Concerns" included civil and criminal charges against other funeral home operators in St. Louis and Dent counties; and civil lawsuits against businesses in Clay, St. Louis and Scott counties that took payment for cemetery markers and headstones and failed to provide them.