CHARLESTON, W. Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Elk Funeral Home and Billy Surratt, its owner, for allegedly misappropriating funds that belonged to at least 16 consumers.
The lawsuit, filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, seeks to permanently ban Elk Funeral Home and Surratt from accepting prepayments from consumers for funeral purchases, restitution for consumers harmed by the defendants' alleged conduct, civil penalties, punitive damage, interest and more than $189,900 in pre-need contract funds currently under the control of the defendants.
"The trust we place in others to safeguard our pre-need funds must not be in vain," McGraw said. "My office will vigorously pursue anyone who violates that trust."
West Virginia law requires funeral providers to deposit all payments for pre-need funeral contracts into special accounts to safeguard the funds until the consumer's time of need when the providers must report the purchase to McGraw's office.
In February, a consumer filed a complaint with the Consumer Protection Hotline about her mother's pre-need contract. Surratt failed to report her transaction to the state and allegedly spent the consumer's money instead of depositing it into the special trust.
In addition, funds from 15 additional consumers were allegedly never deposited into special accounts by Surratt. The funeral director allegedly spent the money from the consumers' pre-need contracts on unknown purposes. At least $61,990 is missing. More consumers are expected to come forward in the matter.