Funeral home must stop pre-need services, pay fines

Published 11:57 pm Friday, December 16, 2011

Williams Funeral Home must stop selling pre-need funeral services to the public and also must repay the state $13,000 in new and old fines, according to a release Friday from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

In 2008, the Vicksburg-based funeral service was ordered to cease and desist from selling pre-need merchandise and services to the public. A review found that neither business, headed by CEO Matthew Williams Jr., nor any of its employed agents had registered with the Secretary of State’s Office to sell pre-need contracts.

An investigation in June turned up 11 pre-need funeral service contracts signed between Nov. 22, 2008, and Nov. 30, 2009 — in violation of the order, Hosemann concluded, based on the recommendation of third-party counsel which heard arguments during an administrative hearing Oct. 13.

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“Consumers need confidence when making their final arrangements,” read a statement from Hosemann. “Selling pre-need policies when you are not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office will result in significant penalties. We will not allow individuals to be taken advantage of during these sensitive times.”

Also, Hosemann concluded the funeral home failed to establish a pre-need trust fund with the funds from the 11 sales. Williams is ordered to pay $8,000 to reflect those violations, plus $5,000 unpaid from the 2008 order.

Since the hearing, Williams has handled two funeral services. In each instance, burial took place more than two weeks after the date of death. A telephone number for the funeral home’s Washington Street office is disconnected, while another for an unlisted Port Gibson location was not answered Friday.

Williams invoked his Fifth Amendment rights during the hearing, but, through his attorney, said current clients’ contracts would be honored. Also, he blamed employee theft and an unspecified illness for the business’ financial woes. The business has operated since 1992 and, in October, was re-licensed by the Mississippi State Board of Funeral Service through December 2012, along with seven other funeral homes in Vicksburg.

By law, the Secretary of State’s Office’s Regulation and Enforcement Division regulates the pre-need funeral industry and perpetual care cemeteries through its implementation of the Pre-Need and Funeral Registration Act.