Funeral director faces big lawsuit Bank seeks $388,000 from jailed Gundel operator for defaulting on loan
BY GIL SMART, Staff Writer
Legal and financial troubles continue to mount for the Gundel Funeral Home and its embattled owner, Benjamin M. Siar Jr.
Siar, arrested Feb. 1 on four counts of abuse of a corpse and four counts of theft by deception, was sued Feb. 11 by Manufacturers and Traders Trust Co. -- also known as M&T Bank -- for defaulting on a small business loan.
Siar missed his November payment on the loan, according to the lawsuit, and hasn't made one since. The bank received a "confession of judgment" in the amount of $388,203, which included an outstanding balance of more than $360,000, plus interest, late fees and attorney's fees through Jan. 28. Additional late fees and interest could be tacked on.
Siar remains in Lancaster County Prison, unable to post $250,000 bail. He was charged after police found four decomposing bodies in the basement and garage of the Gundel Funeral Home, 3225 Main St., Conestoga. Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said Siar took money from the families to cremate the bodies, but never did.
Siar's Feb. 8 preliminary hearing was continued to March 20, according to court documents. His court-appointed attorney, Joseph J. Kenneff, of the Millersville firm Goodman & Kenneff, did not return a message seeking comment.
Late last week, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs filed multiple charges against Siar with the State Board of Funeral Directors. In addition to accusing Siar of taking money for funeral or cremation services never performed, the state accused him of bilking several local families out of money they paid for prearranged funeral services.
According to the complaint, Siar "enrolled" four families in insurance policies designed to pay for funeral and burial services, but asked the families to make checks payable to Gundel rather than the insurance company. Siar, according to the complaint, took $42,684 from the four families -- and never submitted the money to the insurance company.
Siar's financial woes appear to have paved the road to his Feb. 1 arrest on criminal charges.
In December, he was sued by a Leola company, Evans Eagle Burial Vaults. The firm, which provides burial vaults and cremation services, asserted in the complaint that Gundel, which had long purchased supplies and services from the company, had stopped paying invoices in May 2012. Between then and November 2012, Gundel accumulated $20,988 in unpaid bills, according to the complaint.
Among the unpaid invoices included in the complaint: bills for 15 cremations.
Also in December, Gundel was evicted from its longtime home at 415 N. Duke St. in Lancaster by the building's owners -- the Gundel family, which sold the business to Siar in the mid-2000s. According to court documents, Siar and the funeral home owed $12,000 in back rent.
A Conestoga man, Barry Rankin, won a default judgment against Gundel Funeral Home on Dec. 3 for $737.55. Rankin prepares grave sites for burial.
Ministers, florists, cemeteries and others who did business with Siar and his funeral home in the summer and fall of 2012 also have complained that they weren't paid.
Siar also owes $215. in penalties stemming from an Oct. 4 arrest for public drunkenness.
While the financial claims against Siar and his funeral home pile up, M&T Bank might have moved to the front of the line.
M&T's complaint stems from a February 2007 Small Business Administration loan for $657,900 that Siar took out via the bank at an interest rate of 7.75 percent.
Matthew J. Creme Jr., an attorney with the Lancaster firm of Nikolaus & Hohenadel and past president of the Lancaster Bar Association, explained that a "confession of judgment" "allows the lender to file a judgment immediately upon failure to cure a default in payment." A debtor can challenge the judgment, but must prove that he is not in default.
In addition, Creme said, the lien in the judgment is placed immediately, rather than at the end of a lawsuit.
"So if there are others with a claim against the debtor, the lender who can "confess judgment" gets to head of the line quicker," said Creme, who has no involvement in the case.