Funeral home director sentenced to 12 months in jail

Published 5:46 pm Friday, February 6, 2015

Former Greenville funeral home director Douglas “Dusty” Harrison was sentenced Thursday for theft of property.

Harrison was arrested in June 2014 and accused of using money intended for customers’ future funeral needs to run his business.

According to Lt. Justin Lovvorn, the Greenville Police Department received its first complaint on Harrison and Harrison Funeral Home in January 2014 and began looking into his business practices with the assistance of the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service.

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Lovvorn said the complaints stemmed from Harrison’s selling of preneed contracts without a certificate of authority and the mishandling of the funds. According to the Alabama Board of Funeral Services, Harrison Funeral Home sold more than $250,000 in pre-need contracts from 2004 to 2013 without a certificate of authority (COA) granting the establishment the right to enter into such contracts. The funds, according to the board, were also not placed in a trust, but rather were used to help cover the operating expenses of the funeral home.

Pre-need funeral contracts are a means to prepay for funeral services. The money goes into an account and accumulates interest. When a person dies, the money from that account is used to help pay for funeral services.

In November 2013, the board revoked the establishment permit of Harrison Funeral Home in Greenville and Harrison’s service license.

“For years Mr. Harrison sold pre-need contracts with complete disregard for the laws of the State of Alabama,” said Cameron McEwen, legal counsel from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

On June 21, 2012, the Alabama Department of Insurance issued Harrison Funeral Home a cease and desist order, preventing the funeral home from offering, selling, entering into or collecting payments on pre-need contracts.

During a November hearing held by the Alabama Board of Funeral Services, two witnesses testified that they purchased pre-need contracts from Harrison Funeral Home in October 2012.

“Mr. Harrison continued to sell the pre-need contracts well after the cease and desist order was issued,” McEwen said.

During testimony, Harrison acknowledged that his funeral home had sold pre-need contracts without a COA, and that the funds had been placed in the funeral home’s general operating budget, but said that he had not yet failed to honor one of the contracts.

Harrison was convicted and sentenced to serve 12 months in jail.  According to District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer, Harrison was charged with 43 counts of theft that varied from first degree to second degree.

“Harris was sentenced to 6 months on the first indictment, and 6 months on the second indictment,” Tesmer said.  “Harris will serve back to back sentences for a total of 12 consecutive months.  After serving the 12 month jail sentence, Harris will serve a minimum of 10 years probation.”

In additional, Harrison has been ordered to pay $263,000 in restitution. Tesmer said the restitution payments in the amount of $200 a month would take place once the 12-month jail sentence is served.

“There are several families that are upset because they paid for burial services that are no longer available,” said Tesmer, who noted several families attended the sentencing. “A lot of the families are coming forward and bearing the expense in an effort to avoid unnecessary worry and burden the situation has caused.”

Eddie Thompson, 80, a native of Crenshaw County, said he was deeply disappointed by Harrison Funeral Home.

“My mother and father used Harrison’s and were pleased with the way their service was handled,” said Thompson.  “I decided to purchase a policy for myself. I paid $5,000 for a contract that was valued at $6,000, so I thought I was getting a good deal.  I learned that two weeks after I purchased my contract that the funeral home had been issued a notice to halt selling preneed services.  Of course, I am out the money I paid, but more than that, I am just very disappointed.  Dusty had always seemed like the ideal person and was very friendly.  My mother and father thought a lot of Dusty, and so did a lot of other people.  I am devastated that this happened the way that it did.”