July 17, 2006
Potosi, Mo. — The former operator of funeral homes in Salem and Bunker admitted today to misusing $46,455 paid by clients for pre-need funeral expenses. Jane Spencer Turner (DOB - 11/18/55), who operated Spencer Funeral Homes, pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts of unlawful merchandising practices in Washington County Circuit Court on a change of venue from Dent County. She will be sentenced by Judge Kenneth W. Pratte on Sept. 18; under the plea agreement, Turner faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.
Attorney General Jay Nixon filed criminal charges against Turner in August 2005 as part of “Operation Grave Concerns,” a crackdown on fraud in the bereavement industry. On July 3, another defendant targeted by Nixon in the initiative, former Vandalia funeral home director Donald Holt, was sentenced to eight years in prison for similarly misusing pre-need funds.
The criminal charges filed by Nixon alleged that Turner defrauded seven consumers who purchased pre-need funeral plans from her. Turner represented to these consumers that she would place their pre-need funeral funds in a trust account to be available to pay for their funeral expenses at their time of death. Missouri law requires that 80 percent of such funds be placed in trust. Nixon said Turner did not place the funeral funds in trust, but instead used the money for other purposes.
Nixon also filed a civil lawsuit against Turner in last August for entering into pre-need funeral contracts and failing to place the money paid by consumers into trust accounts as required by law. Nixon further alleged that Turner sold pre-need funeral contracts as an agent for Missouri Funeral Trust (MFT) and as an agent for National Prearranged Services (NPS), and failed to forward consumers' money to these sellers for deposit into trust accounts. The civil lawsuit against Turner is still pending in Dent County.
Nixon entered into an assurance of voluntary compliance last August with Missouri Funeral Trust to ensure the integrity of the contracts sold through Turner. MFT also agreed to increase its oversight of contracts sold by its agents and to pay $20,000 to cover the costs of the Attorney General's investigation.
A separate out-of-court agreement with National Prearranged Services covered NPS pre-need contracts sold by Turner and ensured adequate funds to pay for funerals. NPS also agreed to more closely monitor its pre-need funeral contracts and to pay $10,000 to the state.