FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
AUSA VICKIE E. LEDUC or
MARCIA MURPHY at 410-209-4885
MARCH 22, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FUNERAL HOME AND ITS OPERATOR INDICTED IN SCHEME TO
STEAL CUSTOMERS’ PREPAID FUNERAL EXPENSE ACCOUNTS
$525,000 Allegedly Withdrawn from Over 100 Customer Bank Accounts;
A Number of the Accounts Were Held by Senior Citizens
Baltimore, Maryland - A federal grand jury indicted Paul Stella, age 43, of Forest Hill, Maryland, and Paul Stella Funeral Home, PA (SFH), today for bank, mail and wire fraud arising from a fraudulent scheme to obtain in excess of $525,000 in prepaid funeral expense accounts for Paul Stella’s gambling and other personal and business expenses, announced United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein stated, "The indictment alleges that Mr. Stella and Stella Funeral Home defrauded senior citizens by convincing them to buy prepaid funeral expense contracts and then stealing their money. We must protect people who are cheated in the process of planning for their own funerals. The investigation of Mr. Stella and his funeral home is ongoing. Anyone who believes they may have been a victim of fraud concerning their prepaid funeral account should contact the FBI at 410-265-8080."
According to the 9-count indictment and court documents, Stella owned and operated SFH located at 7527 Harford Road, Baltimore. Customers who wanted to pay in advance for the cost of their funeral entered into contracts with Stella and SFH. A number of these accounts were held by senior citizens. The amount paid in advance varied from approximately $500 to $7,500. Stella and SFH agreed to deposit the prepaid funeral expenses in accounts at a bank and act as a trustee to preserve the money for the customers’ funerals.
The indictment further alleges that from June 2004 until December, 2006, Stella caused forged letters purporting to authorize the closing of the prepaid funeral expense accounts to be presented to the bank at which the prepaid funeral expense accounts were held. As a result, the bank closed the accounts and issued checks payable to SFH customers to Stella and SFH employees. Stella then presented fraudulently endorsed bank checks made payable to SFH customers and deposited the proceeds in bank accounts controlled by Stella and SFH. Stella used the proceeds for personal expenses, such as gambling, and for the business expenses of SFH, rather than solely to pay for SFH customers’ funerals. The indictment seeks forfeiture of $525,000 fraudulently obtained from over 100 SFH customer accounts.
Stella faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release for bank, mail and wire fraud. SFH faces a maximum fine of $1 million.
An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the investigative work performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Gruber, who is prosecuting the case.