Owners of funeral home where 190 decaying bodies were found charged

A couple who owned a Colorado funeral home where authorities last year discovered 190 decaying bodies were indicted on federal charges that they misspent nearly $US900,000 ($1.3 million) in pandemic relief funds on vacations, cosmetic surgery, jewellery and other personal expenses, according to unsealed court documents.

The indictment reaffirms accusations from state prosecutors that Jon and Carie Hallford gave families dry concrete instead of cremated ashes and alleges the couple buried the wrong body on two occasions. The couple also collected more than $200,000 from families for cremations and burial services they never provided, the indictment said.

The grand jury brought federal charges in addition to more than 200 criminal counts already pending against the Hallfords in Colorado state court for corpse abuse, money laundering, theft and forgery. The 15 federal offences carry potential penalties of 20 years in prison and $388,000 in fines, according to the indictment.

Jon Hallford, left, and Carie Hallford, the owners of Return to Nature Funeral Home. (Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File) (AP)

The Hallfords could not be reached immediately for comment and they didn’t have lawyers listed yet for the federal charges. They were due to appear before a US magistrate judge Monday afternoon.

Even before the new indictment was unsealed on Monday, public records revealed that the Hallfords had been plagued by debt, facing evictions and lawsuits for unpaid cremations even as they spent lavishly.

The indictment alleges the couple used the $1.3 million in pandemic relief funds to buy items for themselves that also included a vehicle, dinners, tuition for their child and cryptocurrency. The fraud involved three loans obtained between March 2020 and October 2021, the indictment alleges.

Previously released court documents from the state abuse of corpse case reveal more details about what they were spending money on.

They bought vehicles that together were worth over $186,000, enough to cover cremation costs twice over for all of the bodies found in their business’ facility last October, according to previous court testimony from FBI agent Andrew Cohen.

US authorities found 190 deaying bodies at the Return to Nature Funeral Home last home. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP, File) (AP)

They also paid for trips to California, Florida and Las Vegas, as well as $48,000 in cryptocurrency, laser body sculpting and shopping at luxury retailers, such as Gucci and Tiffany & Co., according to court documents.

The couple have not yet entered pleas to the state’s abuse of corpse charges.

The discovery of the 190 bodies last year, some that had languished since 2019, left families to learn their loved ones weren’t in the ashes they were given by the funeral home. Instead, they were decaying in a bug-infested building about two hours south of Denver.

An investigation by the Associated Press found that the two owners likely sent fake ashes and fabricated cremation records.

They appear to have written on death certificates given to families, along with ashes, that the cremations were performed by Wilbert Funeral Services, who denies performing them for the funeral home at that time.

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