Pennsylvania Man Gets 6 Years in Prison for Prepaid Burial Fraud

The head of a prepaid funeral supply business was sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for ripping off about $2.5 million from clients by not delivering vaults and caskets.

Joseph M. Stabile, 39, of Forest Hills, pleaded guilty in April to charges including conspiracy, mail fraud and making false statements on tax returns while he was president and CEO of Celestial Burial Case Co.

The company, now defunct, marketed primarily to senior citizens, particularly veterans, through magazines and licensing agreements with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and the American Legion, authorities said.

"This is one of the most offensive consumer fraud schemes we have ever had in this area," U.S. Postal Inspector Andrew Richards said. "Stabile succeeded in not only stealing their money, but also their dignity and peace when it was most needed."

One woman, Debbie Gorley of Ada, Okla., told prosecutors that Stabile claimed her father-in-law's casket failed to arrive because of increased anti-terrorism security measures at airports.

The funeral for Gorley's father-in-law, a World War II veteran, was postponed for several days so his family could buy another casket from a local funeral director. Stabile promised to reimburse the family and eventually sent a $4,000 check, which bounced, Gorley said.

Senior U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond reviewed depositions by Gorley and other victims before sentencing Stabile on Tuesday to 77 months in prison.

Under Pennsylvania law, prepaid funeral companies must deposit 70 percent of payments into trust accounts until the customer dies and the services or merchandise are provided. Prosecutors say only $54,000 was deposited out of $2.5 million the customers paid in advance.

Three other Celestial Burial executives have already pleaded guilty.

Public defender Michael Novara contends Stabile did not intend to defraud customers, but spent money from the trust accounts to cover expenses after business fell off.