Investigations

7News investigates Upstate funeral homes accused of withholding remains

SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) - It's a topic few families discuss in detail, what to expect from a funeral home when someone you love dies.

If you don't know your rights you could be taken advantage of when you're most vulnerable. 

Most families don't know how the industry is regulated to protect consumers, or that there are state documents that detail how some funeral homes and funeral directors have violated the rules.

In this 7News investigation, we discovered those "public reprimands" don't always stop funeral homes from committing new offenses, which is why it's so important for families to be informed before they ever experience the loss of a loved one.

If Anita McMillian in Spartanburg had not been a meticulous person, if she had not researched her rights, then the owner of Community Mortuary in Union and Spartanburg may still have his license as a funeral director.

"I still have nightmares about my Daddy and stuff," said McMillian.

Her father, Winfred Lee Mings, Sr. died in June of 2014.  

The family trusted funeral director Michael Glenn to handle the arrangements.  But when McMillian went to his funeral home, Glenn wouldn't quote a firm price, which sent up red flags.

"And I was like do not burry my father.  Do not have a funeral.  "If you're not going to tell me the price do not do it," she said.

South Carolina law requires funeral homes to offer families a written contract breaking down the precise costs, with the customer signing an agreement.

McMillian got none that she agreed on, so she signed nothing.

State documents show Glenn, "conducted the service anyway... but did not bury Mr. Mings even though a grave had already been opened."

"I had kept calling him but he would not release the body.  He was holding the body for ransom," said McMillian.

7News asked Dean Grigg, the Deputy Director for Professional and Occupational Licensing with South Carolina's Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation (LLR) whether a funeral home or director can hold a body or cremations until a family has payed.

"No, no and I believe that would fall under the unprofessional conduct of our practice act. You cannot withhold the body or remains of cremation for payment," said Grigg. 

The agency helps to make sure funeral homes and directors follow state code

When families who feel wronged file claims the Board of Funeral Service investigates. 

After McMillian filed her complaint, the state's probe into Michael Glenn found Mr. Ming's "remains were not kept refrigerated" for roughly a year.

"I was hurt and upset and didn't see how somebody could do a person like that," said McMillian. 

In 2015 the board's findings, which are public record on LLR's website, declared Glenn's license "permanently revoked."

"I thought maybe he was never going to be able to do this again," said McMillian.

At least, that's what she hoped. 

Tina Whethers, in Union SC, lost her mother Carol Joyce Dangerfield in February of 2018. 

"I didn't know what was appropriate because I never planned a funeral," said Whethers.

Community Mortuary in Union conducted the funeral, still owned by Michael Glenn.

"In the church after my Mother's funeral, he said 'I just want you to know you have 30 days from the cremation to pick up her remains, or we have the right to discard the remains.'  And my cousin said, let me see if I understand you correctly, did you just say you were going to throw away her mother, trash her mom if she don't pay in 30 days? 'Oh, no, he said, 'I didn't say that, I said respectfully discard her remains.'"

This was not even 10 minutes after the funeral my mother's body was still in the church," said Whethers.

She said since Glenn made funeral and cremation arrangements, she thought he was the licensed director. It wasn't until we pointed out the signature on her documents that she learned the truth.

"That shocked me to see that," said Whethers.

The state can't comment on investigations, but we were there when Whethers filed a complaint with LLR.
 
7News asked the agency what roles you are not allowed to perform if you are not a funeral director but still working at a home.

"Well you certainly can't hold yourself out to be a funeral director.  You couldn't engage in making arrangements of the funeral service or the cremation.  You couldn't engage in making arrangements for the transportation or the collecting and gathering and holding or storing of the body, caring for the body," said Grigg.

"Financial arrangements" must also be left to a licensed funeral director according to state code.  

Whethers says Glenn discussed cost with both her mother's insurance company and herself.

"I begged him, could you work with me?  I don't want to bury, I don't want to burn my mother, I really want to give her a funeral, could you work with me, and he said if you have $4100 cash right now I'll stop this.  And obviously I didn't have that so she was cremated," said Whethers.

Glenn wouldn't talk with us, but there's one big question we did get answered: How can a funeral director who had his license permanently revoked keep working in a funeral home? 

It turns out, it's perfectly legal, so long as that person never again performs the role of funeral director.  South Carolina law even allows them to own a funeral home.

And Glenn is not the only former funeral director accused of misconduct after returning to work in a funeral home following the revocation of their license.  

In February 7News first told you about Lawrence Meadows the co-owner of First Family Funeral home.  His license was revoked in 2015 but he's now under investigation for improperly storing a body that was supposed to be cremated three years ago.

After what happened to others, Whethers is grateful her mother's friends eventually raised enough money to enable her to finally bring her mother's ashes home.    

"They told me that until I paid everything I owed, I would not get the remains," said Whethers.

McMillian hopes more families learn their rights and research the funeral board findings before the time comes when they feel the sting of grief. 

"If you love your family, you have to stand up to it and fight it till the end," said McMillian.

7News talked to LLR about how difficult it can be for the public to find the board orders, which are several links into the agency's website.   LLR says it is planning to revamp its website and will take that into consideration.  


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