Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
State agency files charges against funeral director
BY LARRY ALEXANDER, Staff Writer
For Benjamin M. Siar Jr. and the Gundel Funeral Home, things just keep getting worse.
The Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs has filed multiple charges of professional misconduct against the Conestoga funeral director with the State Board of Funeral Directors.
Siar is in Lancaster County Prison, charged with four counts each of abuse of a corpse and theft by deception, after four bodies in various states of decomposition were found at his business last month.
The 22-count complaint issued by the state calls for the revocation of Siar's funeral director license and the levying of a $10,000 fine per violation against him. A similar complaint was filed against Gundel Funeral Home, 3225 Main St., Conestoga, calling for the identical penalties.
The 41-page document discusses the violations in detail, outlining how Siar took cash for funeral services that were never performed.
In the case of 76-year-old Rosa E. Kleinhaus, who died Dec. 20, the document said Siar accepted payment of $5,047.50 in three installments from Kleinhaus in 2009 and 2010 for a pre-arranged funeral.
On Jan. 31, 41 days after her death, investigators found Kleinhaus' remains in a cardboard box with her name written on it, in an attached garage at his funeral home. The garage was not refrigerated or climate-controlled, the document states.
The family of Marie Elizabeth Zug, 97, who died Dec. 26, paid Siar $4,324 for her funeral, the complaint reads. Her "severely decomposed" remains were found 35 days after her death in a body bag, wearing a toe tag, in a refrigeration unit in the attached garage. Her body had not been embalmed.
The indictment also states that a memorial service for Zug was held on Jan. 12, during which time an urn Siar said contained her ashes was presented to the family. The urn was then interred
Two-year-old Ranasia Knight died Jan. 12. After her body was released by the Lancaster County Coroner's Office on Jan. 18, the document says, it was turned over to Siar. The funeral director accepted a payment of $400 from the child's family for cremation.
Instead, the document states, her decomposing remains were discovered lying on a table in a preparation room in the basement of the funeral home. The room was not refrigerated, secured or attended, the state contends.
Sandra J. Hotchkiss, 71, died on Jan. 21. The document said her family paid Siar $2,000 for cremation services. Like Knight, her decomposing body was found on a table in the unrefrigerated preparation room.
The complaint also alleges that Hotchkiss's family never received the jewelry and other personal effects that were on her body when it was entrusted to Siar.
In addition to the four uncremated bodies found at the funeral home, the state also contends that Siar bilked at least several local families out of money they paid for pre-arranged services.
According to the documents, Siar, acting as "an appointed agent for ForeThought Life Insurance Co.," would accept payment from people and "enroll" them with FLIC. Upon their deaths, the money in FLIC was to go toward funeral expenses.
In one case, Siar accepted payment of $24,428 from a Willow Street couple, plus $7,545 from a Holtwood couple. He also collected $9,836 and $1,875 from two individuals for pre-arranged funerals for elderly family members.
In all cases, Siar had the checks made out to the Gundel Funeral Home.
None of the money was deposited with FLIC.
In light of the allegations, the document concludes, the bureau is asking the State Board of Funeral Directors to have Siar's license revoked or suspended, "or the imposition of other disciplinary or corrective actions" that board is able to impose, and a "civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each and every violation."
nTwenty-two counts against Benjamin Siar Jr. and Gundel Funeral Home describe abuse of corpses and pocketing money for pre-arranged services.