A local funeral home director admitted Monday to numerous crimes against his clients, including failures to perform cremations and other services.

Benjamin Siar Jr., 42, pleaded guilty to 92 felony and misdemeanor counts of theft, abuse of a corpse, and performing deceptive business practices.

Siar, director of Gundel Funeral Home, pleaded guilty Monday afternoon — on the day he was to be tried — in exchange for a 5-to-10-year prison term.

However, the plea agreement didn’t involve four counts of abuse of a corpse. Lancaster County Judge Dennis Reinaker will order sentence on those crimes on March 26.

“That may be the extent of the sentence,” Reinaker told Siar, referring to the negotiated 5-to-10-year term. “It may not be.”

Assistant District Attorney Maria Cusick, while outlining the plea agreement, requested that Siar receive an additional sentence on the abuse of corpse charges.

As part of sentence, Siar also must pay restitution to the victims, estimated to be about $150,000.

As Cusick provided details of the 92 criminal counts in court, Siar balked a couple times, telling the judge he disagreed with parts of the accounts.

“I disagree with the facts she reported,” he said at one point. “But I understand” the plea agreement.

Cusick detailed how Siar took payment to cremate four deceased individuals in late 2012 and early 2013, but failed to do so.

One of those victims was found in a cardboard box at the funeral home — 42 days after she died and was to be cremated.

Two-year-old Ranasia Knight, a homicide victim, was found in a basement of the Conestoga funeral home — 19 days after she died.

Two others suffered similar fates when they arrived at the funeral home.

Also outlined in court:

•A family paid Siar to have a loved one cremated and buried, but an urn of unknown ashes was provided and interred.

•Siar forged a local mother's name on her son's cremation certificate.

•A family paid $2,326 for a casket, only to notice during the funeral their loved one was in a different casket.

•Siar wrote bad checks to a pair of local pastors who presided over funeral services.

The plea agreement was struck Monday morning as attorneys were discussing preliminary issues for the trial. Cusick and defense lawyer Alan Goldberg worked out the deal.

The attorneys were discussing the case outside of the courtroom when officials were informed at 11 a.m. that Siar wished to plead guilty.

Siar has been at Lancaster County Prison since Feb. 1, 2013.

As he was escorted into the courtroom in handcuffs, he peered back at the spectator gallery, smiled and waved.

Goldberg explained to the judge that Siar has “minor” disagreements with some of the allegations.

“We are giving up those minor complaints in exchange for the global plea agreement,” Goldberg said.

At the end of the hearing, Siar, in a navy blue suit and glasses, told the judge, “Thank you.”




Brett Hambright is a Lancaster Newspapers staff writer who covers crime and the Lancaster County court system. He can be reached at bhambright@lnpnews.com or (717) 481-6026. You can also follow @BrettHambright on Twitter.